The lost generation at greatest risk of harm: what we can learn about mental health from millennials

By Michelle Chance, Partner and Head of the London Employment team at transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson UK

Staff rarely feel sorry for their line managers, so employees will be shocked to learn that the forgotten generation when it comes to looking after their wellbeing and taking active steps to protect their mental health are those in mid-ranking or senior managerial positions & partners in professional services firms.

A type personalities are most attracted to these managerial roles, but they are significantly more likely than other personality types to be adversely affected by mental health issues and they are the least likely to admit it and seek the help that they need. This is further borne out by the fact that the Office of National Statistics’ Opinions And Lifestyle Survey revealed on 1 May 2018 that high earners are far more likely to drink alcohol than those in manual jobs. Finance workers, lawyers and doctors are among those classified as higher earning managerial and professional occupations. Hazardous drinking among those aged 45 plus in this higher earning category has increased significantly since 2005.

Line managers are meant to be responsible for spotting the signs of early mental health issues in their team members, but who takes responsibility for the line manager/partner’s mental health and wellbeing?  All too often, sadly, the answer is noone.

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If a senior individual is going through a life-changing event such as divorce, death or terminal illness of a close family member, someone in their organisation should be tasked with recognising that these are exceptionally stressful situations and ensuring that they receive the support they need, as these individuals are statistically the least likely to ask for help for fear of being viewed as weak. They are of the stiff upper lip generation who tend not to share their emotions in the workplace, as they feel it is unprofessional to do so. Conversely, vulnerability is viewed as a sign of strength and authenticity contributing to an honest and open workplace culture by Generation X and millennials.

It is positive and encouraging that younger generations in the workplace view seeing their psychologist/psychiatrist/counsellor regularly, in almost the same vein as seeing their personal trainer. A healthy mind contributes to a healthy body and one cannot truly be had without the other. Fitness incorporates mental as well as physical strength and wellbeing. Just look at the popularity of yoga, pilates, meditation, mindfulness classes and retreats. Seeing a psychologist does not insinuate that there is something wrong with an individual and often it is a preventative measure to ensure ongoing positive mental health. It’s akin to having a check-up, like a car has anMOT to ensure that it is firing on all cylinders.

Myson, who is of primary school age, suffers from severe allergies and has annual check-ups and skin-prick tests at hospital. I had not really given the potential psychological aspects of his allergies much thought, until I received a call from the hospital’s psychologist recently inviting my son, my husband and I to attend a workshop for children and parents of children with severe allergies to discuss the anxiety that may accompany their allergies, the fear of being different, standing out from their friends and positive coping mechanisms for this. This was reinforced to me, when my son explained how upset and anxious he was about having to carry his epipens and antihistamine medication with him at all times during a recent school outdoor pursuits trip.

My daughter’s senior school has an on-site counsellor and the pupils can and do regularly self-refer themselves to the counsellor to discuss any concerns they may have on a confidential basis. The parents however find this much harder to cope with than the children, particularly the fact that their children are talking about their emotions to a stranger and not them and that they are unaware of the detail of what is being discussed in the counselling sessions. Talking openlyabout their emotions and learning how to process and deal with them is normal for many senior school age children and it should be for our generation too. There is a lot we can learn from our children and millennials in this regard.

Measures also need to be taken to clamp down against and stamp out isolating and excluding behaviour, bullying, discriminatory and offensive  comments amongst managers at the same/similar grade and level as each other, as this is something organisations struggle to deal with at the mid-management ranks/ senior levels. However, it significantly and detrimentally impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of those at/near the top levels of management, who are less likely to feel able to speak out against it, when it is happening to them, rather than to junior team members whom they manage and feel an obligation to protect.

Workplaces have taken a lot of positive steps to encourage wellbeing and to attempt to normaliseand de-stigmatise mental health issues, in the same way as physical medical conditions in the workplace, but the missing link & forgotten generation in the workplace which needs to be urgently addressed is the mental health and well-being of those in mid and senior managerial positions. Managers can only look after the wellbeing of their team members properly, if they themselves have good mental, as well as physical health.

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