Louis’ story highlights how mental health in the workplace can be handled positively

As Mental Health Awareness week gets under way the Liverpool legal worker talks about his battle with depression – and how his enlightened employer offered him the right support. Jennie Lewis reports

Louis Bever, who works at Liverpool law firm, MSB Solicitors

Poor mental health is one of the biggest issues in the workplace today – something Liverpool law firm worker Louis Bever can testify to.

In the UK, an estimated 70m working days are lost to mental health issues each year – a figure that has soared 24% since 2010, according to Mind, the mental health charity.

One in five people admit to taking days of work due to stress and around a quarter of the working population say they have – or would consider resigning through stress.

And as we mark Mental Health Awareness Week this week Louis’s story reminds of of the real human struggles behind the statistics.

Personal battles

He joined Liverpool law firm MSB as a legal assistant in the family department in late 2016. In the months prior, he had battled anxiety, depression and OCD.

Louis says: “Around October last year, I wasn’t having the best time with my mental health. I experienced a couple of events which my brain didn’t react too well to and I found that I was losing interest in all the things I loved.”

Louis, usually a confident and creative person – photographer, skate-boarder and keen traveller – admits he simply didn’t feel himself, but says he realised he needed to talk to someone to get to the route of what was causing the change in his mood.

Louis took the decision to consult a doctor. He says: “I guess fellas don’t talk about their mental health too often and I was really embarrassed to tell my close friends about it.

“However looking back six months on, I think I would be more embarrassed if I hadn’t sough the right help.  

“After talking things through, I decided to try to take matters into my own hands and get back to the things I love. I booked a holiday to Morocco. After all, nothing can boost my mood like warm weather, my Leica camera and good coffee.”

Going public

Louis documented his journey and the positive impact it had on his mental health, and in March this year, his article, honest in it’s depiction, was published in men’s mental health magazine, The Basement.

In his concluding paragraph, Louis urges others experiencing similar issues with their mental health to speak out about it, whether to friends or to a professional, and offers some advice on managing stress, saying: “Find a hobby, get stupidly infatuated with it and everything will be fine.”

Open door policy

Mental health in the workplace is still a taboo issue for many organisations.

Mind also reports that less than half of employees in the UK say they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to their manager or line manager about stress at work.

However, Louis’s employer is taking a lead in creating an environment where workers can work through problems.

Paul Bibby, managing partner of MSB Solicitors, says his firm has an open door policy, to help combat stress and anxiety in the workplace.

“How can you get to the route of a problem if you don’t talk about it,” he says.

“We run a regular and detailed staff appraisal programme, which provides an opportunity for open communication with our staff about personal and professional development, and discuss any challenges.

In the UK, an estimated 70m working days are lost to mental health issues each year

“Joanne Dalton who deals with our HR has trusted and developed relationships with all our staff, but I encourage my staff – all my staff, at every level within the firm – to speak to me directly if and when they wish. My door is always open.

“My staff know that discussions are treated in the utmost confidence and that issues will be dealt with promptly and, where necessary, sensitively. It is just in our make-up.

“The physical and emotional wellbeing of our team has always been a priority and is very much part of the culture here at MSB.”

Clear discrimination

In a survey of UK adults published on Mind’s website, 56% of employers said they would not hire someone with depression, even if they were the best person for the job. Something Paul Bibby describes as ‘shocking’.

He adds: “I wonder if those same people questioned would discriminate against people I poor physical health? I’m minded to think perhaps not.

Paul Bibby, managing partner at MSB Solicitors in Liverpool

“We have a responsibility as employers, particularly in light of the rise in poor mental health, to learn how to manage mental wellbeing in the workplace and provide support for our staff when they need it.”

He said Louis is a welcome addition to the MSB team, adding: “Louis has fitted in remarkably well at MSB. He is always positive, polite and professional and I predict he has a great future ahead of him in the law.

“More than that, he is a shining example of what can be achieved by being brave and outspoken, and tackling mental health issues head on, rather than burying your head in the sand.”

Louis adds: “As fellas, we are too scared to speak about our problems, which I think is ridiculous.

“Depression is the biggest killer for men under the age of 35 and we are less likely to seek help. The best thing I ever did was book that GP appointment… and that trip to Morocco.”

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