Written by
Colin Minto

Published
22 May 2017

Colin Minto: opening up about mental difference is crucial to breaking stigma

22 May 2017 • by Colin Minto

A series of situations compelled me to ‘open up’ about my OCD.

My Dad has gone into a home with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s related dementia and I have spent a lot of time with the most amazing individuals who are sadly losing their cognitive ability which is just so unfair.

I found out on Facebook that an old school acquaintance may have committed suicide because of his ‘demons inside’ and I immediately thought, 'what if this was OCD or any other mental health issue? What if he needed help and suffered in silence? What if I had found out he had OCD and I had the chance to support him! What if, what if, what if? I might be, and desperately hope I am wrong, but what if?'

I got angry with TV shows taking the mick out of OCD, and got tired of people flippantly suggesting they were a bit OCD when in fact they were just tidy. I’m not criticising them, I just felt OCD needed to be understood more.

Finally, I watched the BBC programme ‘Employable Me’ in a hotel room in Paris. It broke me when 34 year old Brett with autism was given an opportunity to do work experience for a medical solutions business and solved a major business challenge for them culminating in him getting a full time job. 

This was after being rejected for every job he had applied for, for eight years solid. I literally found myself in floods of tears on the phone to my wife saying that because I used to hold the second largest private employer group head of resourcing role in the world, I had to do something about this.

I am so pleased I decided to change direction and attempt to do something about raising awareness to mental difference. So I went public and since then my life has changed demonstrably.

The importance and responsibility of opening up

Remember Crocodile Dundee when Sue was talking to Mick about shrinks? She suggested they probably had no need for them in Walkabout Creek and Mick confirmed they didn’t because “back there if you got a problem you tell Wally, and he tells everyone in town, brings it out in the open, no more problem”. 

Quite extreme, but the basis of ‘Professor Mick’s’ approach is sound. The more we open up as people and businesses, the more people will feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.

If we create the right environment for people to learn about the importance of mental health, and the symptoms to look out for in themselves or others, and react appropriately, we achieve the first principle of the ENABLE Mental Difference Model, which is to Educate.
  
The next principle is to normalise the subject and conversation surrounding mental health, illness and difference. This is achieved by encouraging people and businesses to ‘open up’ in a controlled manner.

Small or large group lunch sessions, presentations or workshops to discuss and debate the subject are extremely popular and requested frequently at present, but they are not to be taken lightly. These cannot be delivered in isolation or as a tick box exercise, because people’s health, welfare and lives are at stake.

‘Open up’ sessions should be delivered with senior stakeholder sponsorship, and where possible involvement, plus provisions need to be made for those that will inevitably ‘open up’ during and after each event (it happens every time). Those that do will need support, access to further information, others to continue the conversation with personally and professionally and the comfort that their opening up will have no negative bearing on their opportunities and career. I urge people not to proceed without this level of safeguard.

Any investment in mental health, illness and difference should not be viewed as a tick box exercise, which is where the third principle of the model provides optimum governance.
The mental wellbeing strategy must align to the general wellbeing, people and overall business strategies. 

Mental difference is a very personal and sensitive subject matter for most as it still carries a stigma, especially in the workplace. It is therefore essential to engage with authentic professionals, with extensive personal experience of mental illness at all times.
I hope we can all work together to bring mental difference and the positives and capabilities it brings out in the open. I also hope we can bring compulsory mental health education to primary and secondary schools.

For more information about the ENABLE model, please visit http://www.apeoplebusiness.com/