Episode 122: Looking after your mental health at work – with Melanie Pritchard

The Covid pandemic has highlighted how mental health challenges affect everybody and the importance of looking after our mental health.

Your physical health is something you can fairly easily monitor: you can keep track of your weight, and if you injure something you usually know about it.

But what about your mental health?  How do you know if you’re mentally fit and well and what can you do if you think there’s some work to do?

In this episode, we’re joined by success coach and corporate wellbeing trainer Melanie Pritchard to discuss how we can build positive mental health and wellbeing practices in the workplace and what you can do personally to look after your mental health.

Today’s guest

Melanie Pritchard

Website: Melanie Pritchard Success Coaching

LinkedIn: Melanie Pritchard

Facebook: Melanie Pritchard Success Coaching

Instagram: Melanie Pritchard Coaching & Melanie Pritchard Training

Twitter: Melanie P Coach

A lawyer turned success coach and corporate wellbeing trainer, Melanie helps clients peak perform in their personal and professional lives, whether supporting individuals to find the right career, build resilience and expedite promotion or training companies to build mental health and wellbeing at work.  

A certified telephone counsellor, personal coach and NLP practitioner, clients include Osborne Clarke, Network Rail, EDF, The Natural History Museum, Hearst UK, Balfour Beatty, LSE and Imperial College London. Featured in the FT, The Huffington Post, Grazia, The Lawyer, Legal Week, HR Zone and The Law Society Gazette, Melanie also produces The School of Success podcast which interviews inspiring change-makers across a range of subjects from how to manifest love, how to launch a successful business, to fertility, mindfulness and beyond!

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • [1:54] How Melanie helps people who aren’t happy in their jobs.
  • [2:39] Why Melanie moved from working in law to starting her own coaching firm.
  • [3:48] Why mental health is now at the forefront of most corporate agendas.
  • [5:03] The hidden costs associated with unsupported mental health.
  • [5:49] The spectrum of mental health and what “mental health” really means.
  • [7:17] How to build awareness of mental illness within yourself and others.
  • [11:49] The power of sharing and when to ask for help with your mental health.
  • [16:23] How mental health hotlines work and how confidential they are.
  • [18:09] The benefits and catharsis of journaling.
  • [19:30] What to do if you are concerned about your mental health.
  • [21:42] How to approach conversations with your employer about mental health.
  • [25:42] How the pandemic has normalised the conversation around mental health.
  • [27:35] The positive effect sharing your story can have on others.
  • [29:35] How recovery differs from person to person.
  • [32:23] How to stay mentally healthy and the importance of being clear on your values.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

To see the resources recommended by all our guests, visit the Resources page.

Episode 122: Looking after your mental health at work - with Melanie Pritchard

Jeremy Cline 0:00
Your physical health is something you can fairly easily monitor. You can keep track of things like your weight, you can see how out of breath you get when you do physical exercise and how long it takes you to recover, and if you injure something, you usually know about it. But what about when it comes to your mental health? How do you know if you're mentally fit and well? And what can you do about it if you think that perhaps there's some work to do? Your mental health can have as much effect on your working performance as your physical health. So, that's what we're going to be talking about in this week's episode. Just so you know, we do cover some fairly difficult topics around anxiety and depression. So, do please bear that in mind if you're someone who might find a discussion around these topics difficult to listen to. I'm Jeremy Cline and this is Change Work Life.

Jeremy Cline 1:03
Hello, and welcome to Change Work Life, the podcast that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. One of the things that the Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted is the importance of looking after not just our physical health, but also our mental health. Your mental health when you're at work is something which is often overlooked. And that's something we're going to put right in this episode. To help us, I'm delighted to be joined by Melanie Pritchard. Melanie is a success coach and corporate well-being trainer who supports individuals in their careers and also trains companies to build mental health and well-being in the workplace. Melanie, welcome to the podcast.

Melanie Pritchard 1:43
Thank you very much, Jeremy. It's a pleasure to be here.

Jeremy Cline 1:45
So, let's find out a little bit about you first. Who are your typical clients and what do they come to you to help them with?

Melanie Pritchard 1:52
That's a very good question, Jeremy. So, my work is twofold. So, on one hand, I coach private individuals, mainly around career coaching, so people who are essentially unhappy in their jobs and want to find the right fit. And I do life coaching there as well, so things like resilience and confidence, and that sort of thing. On the other hand, I work with companies. So, what does that mean? It might involve going on and doing short resilience master classes, or mental health first aid training, whether half-day, one-day or two-day, which essentially equips people in companies with how to spot the signs and symptoms of costly and common mental health issues.

Jeremy Cline 2:28
And you, like me, started out life as a lawyer. How did you make the switch from law to coaching? Why did you make the switch from law to coaching?

Melanie Pritchard 2:37
That's an excellent question, Jeremy. So, I used to work in family law. And to be really honest, I'd always been drawn to it, I think, because I wanted to make a difference to people who are going through the vulnerability that inevitably accompanies change. Obviously, when you're getting a divorce, there's lots of changes, financial, property, relationship. And in many ways, coaching is similar. If you're changing career, you can feel vulnerable and very scared, and if you're struggling in your personal life, you can also feel the same. The key difference is, really what attracted me, that coaching is more about empowerment, and expedited growth, whereas I found that litigation was more about damage limitation. And I found coaching more exciting, and it also fitted better with what I realised were a couple of really leading drivers, such as work-life balance and freedom. So, it's allowed me to have my own business, and to have greater freedom and probably greater creativity, too. So, yeah, it's been a good move for me.

Jeremy Cline 3:32
Brilliant. So, talking about mental health, why has it become such an issue in the corporate world at the moment, assuming that the premise of the question is right in that it has become such an issue in the corporate world at the moment?

Melanie Pritchard 3:46
Absolutely. Well, that's really interesting. I would say two things. Firstly, it's always been an issue. It's always been a silent epidemic, really. So, for instance, lots of people aren't aware of the shocking stats that 85 men take their lives every week in the UK, every single week. Okay? And 75% of suicides are male. Do we hear about this often? No, we don't. One in four of us will struggle with mental health issues every year in the UK, and those stats were pre-pandemic. And now, if you look at ourselves and all of our friends through the pandemic, what have we seen? The S word left, right, and centre, stress, whether it's been home-schooling parents, people who have furloughed and lost their sense of purpose, people who are scared about redundancy or those who are bereaved and beyond. So, mental health has really been put on the corporate agenda majorly as a result of all the stresses of the pandemic, and it's been something that companies have had to really confront, because, quite frankly, if nothing else, it costs companies a heck of a lot of money not supporting it. And by a heck of a lot, I mean 26 billion pounds, in terms of what UK businesses lose from not supporting mental health, 26 billion pounds a year. So, it's absolutely vast.

Jeremy Cline 4:56
Where do those losses stem from? So, what makes up the 26 billion?

Melanie Pritchard 5:01
Yeah. It's an excellent question. All sorts of things from recruitment costs, staff turnover, redundancy costs, so lots of hidden costs we may not necessarily think of, I believe it amounts to 1200 pounds per employee, the cost of unsupported mental health. So, if you can proactively support people's well-being and happiness, studies show that they are more productive at work. Happy employees are successful employees.

Jeremy Cline 5:23
Can you talk about what we're talking about when we talk about mental health? So, what sort of thing do we mean, when we talk about mental health? Is it just things like stress, or there are other more serious things like depression and that sort of thing? So, can you give an overview as to what it is?

Melanie Pritchard 5:44
Brilliant question, and this is something we dive into on my mental health training courses, because a lot of people hear the M word, mental, and what they think of, they think of mental illness, depression, anxiety, psychosis, suicide. Mental health is actually really a synonym for well-being. So, it's a spectrum we all move around. And on one side of the spectrum, you have well-being, when you're sort of at your optimum best, and on the other side, you might find more mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. So, this is a spectrum we all move around throughout our lives, so really, mental health is just like physical health, we all go through ups and downs. Very rarely do we stay level and in exactly the same place, because as we've seen in the pandemic, all sorts of things happen in life, whether it's divorce, or children getting ill, or infertility, or job stresses. So, mental health can capture key themes, like how well you respond to changes in life, do they really knock you down, knock you for six mentally, or do you bounce back relatively easily? It can also encapsulate things like how you feel about the future, do you feel positive, or do you feel a sense of sort of blackness when you think about the future? So, it really is a spectrum that we all move around, in essence, mental health, just like physical health. You could be fighting fit physically one day, another day, you could be feeling quite rundown with a sore throat. So, it's really no different.

Jeremy Cline 7:02
And I think you've touched on it there, but can you talk more about what are the sorts of things to look out for in yourself that might indicate that there's some work that you need to do?

Melanie Pritchard 7:13
Also a really good question, Jeremy. And I'm glad you asked that. Because if you're not aware of the signs and symptoms of, say, the difference between stress and mental illness, you might label yourself incorrectly. So, for example, let's say you're normally quite a diligent worker, and you're finding it really quite hard to get out of bed in the morning and actually just get started with work. If you don't know the signs and symptoms of, say, depression, you might think, 'I'm a lazy so-and-so, what's wrong with me?' When actually you might be really struggling with a mental illness like depression, for instance. So, generally speaking, before I tell you about some more signs and symptoms, there are a couple of quite high-level giveaways that you might be in mental illness territory. One is feeling down more than up, okay, over a period of two weeks, which is the minimum timeframe for a depression diagnosis, for clinical depression diagnosis. So, if you've been feeling down more than up for a period of two weeks, you might be veering towards that depression territory. The other really helpful high-level pointer is this idea of disability, which is where mental illness can often fall. So, what does that mean? It really means an inability to function in a way that's normal for you, day-to-day. So, let's say, Jeremy, you usually jump out of bed, go and have a lovely kind of hearty fry-up, go into your run every lunchtime, and wrap up work at six. Perhaps, you noticed some shifts in those norms, perhaps you really struggle to get out of bed, maybe you just don't have the energy to get yourself outside on that run, and maybe you're finding it really hard to concentrate at work. So, you're having to work till 9:30 at night just to get the same workload done. So, any kind of shift in your norms, in essence, might be an alarm bell that all isn't well mentally. In terms of other symptoms, to be really honest, it's quite a minefield, Jeremy. The good way to think about it is physical signs and symptoms, psychological and behavioural. So, behavioural, one that's often misunderstood, is aggression. Okay? So, if someone is suddenly becoming aggressive when they're normally quite even-tempered, that could be a giveaway. In somebody else, you might notice tearfulness. In somebody else, you might notice they are a work colleague who's normally very sociable, and they start becoming very withdrawn. So, some behavioural shifts there that you might note aren't typical of that person. Physical, it could be anything from paleness to shaking to somebody losing weight or gaining weight or developing poor hygiene, for example. And the really important one to remember, which is often invisible, is the psychological signs and symptoms. So, you could be sitting by someone at work who seems outwardly really confident, really positive, but inwardly, their internal monologue could be completely different, and you may not have any clue until maybe something happens, and you think, 'Crikey! I really didn't have any idea that you had such a negative inner monologue.' Maybe they're telling themselves, 'I'm a loser, I'm a waste of space, I'm terrible at my work.' And you never would have guessed. And that's where having and developing an awareness of the more subtle signs and symptoms can literally save lives. Because quite often, we all know someone who is the smiling depressive, you know, that horrible line, there were no signs that we relate to suicide, or there were signs, they were just internal and much harder to spot to the untrained eye.

Jeremy Cline 10:28
I read that doctors tend to be the biggest hypochondriacs because they learn about so many of these illnesses, they start to identify them in themselves, even though they might not have them. And I just want to veer away from that danger here. So, someone hearing you describe some of the various symptoms, and that someone's thinking about themselves and thinking, 'Oh, my goodness! That's me!' But maybe it is, maybe it isn't. So, where did you draw the line, if you can draw the line, between what might be an issue versus something which is just day-to-day life, stress, you know, the stress of having a job, the stress of trying to balance that job with your working life? I mean, you talked about this and this, and not being able to motivate yourself, obviously, this podcast is all about career change. For some people, it will be because their career is no longer a good fit for them, and that, I suppose, could itself be a cause of a deterioration in mental health. But where do you draw the line between, where do you get to the point where you think, 'Okay, I need some help with this, this is beyond just a lot of stuff going on in my life at the minute'?

Melanie Pritchard 11:44
Yeah, I think, so much good stuff in there. Jeremy, just jotting down a couple of your points. I would say, in terms of when you need help, firstly, if in doubt, open up to someone and share. I think that, if there's one key takeaway around mental health training, it's the power of sharing, it can literally save lives, you know, a problem shared is a problem halved, whether that's calling a confidential helpline, like the Samaritans, which is open 24 hours a day, and speaking to a trained listener, and the power of that should not be underestimated, because how do we feel when we speak to someone who is trained to properly listen, we feel a heck of a lot better when we're seen and heard. So, never underestimate the power of speaking to a trained listener, whether it's the confidential helpline, which can really fit some people if they don't want to talk to a friend. Also, there are lots of therapists out there. And there are certainly quite a few online now. So, BetterHelp, for example, is a brilliant app that's very accessible, brilliant therapists on there. And something else people aren't always aware of, particularly around financial blocks around therapy is a lot of therapy practices give bursaries. So, for example, Relate, the relationship therapists give out bursaries, so they might charge 20 pounds per session for someone who can't afford to pay full price, or you know, connect you with a trainee psychotherapist, who's keen to get training opportunities and doesn't mind being paid less. So, I would say the first thing is talk to someone, ideally a professional, but certainly, in the first instance, talk to a friend or a parent or a partner, don't struggle alone, you're not here to diagnose yourself, you're here to open up and to let the professionals support you in that way. And as you've sort of alluded to in your excellent question, Jeremy, it can be quite a minefield, it can be quite hard to tell. Because remember, just like physical health, someone could have a broken leg, it's obvious, it's quite a serious injury, somebody else could have quite a serious internal problem, like cancer they knew nothing about. So, mental health is a spectrum as well, you could have, say, a mild depression, and it might not be totally debilitating day-to-day, but you might have quite negative thought loops that you're unable to pull yourself out of. Okay? So, that idea of disability really affecting your ability to function in a way that's normal for you day-to-day, that's the real essence here. It's sort of spotting shifts in your norms over a sustained period. And of course, during the pandemic, a lot of us struggled, didn't we? So, a lot of people panic when I've been doing online workshops during the pandemic, because a lot of us are abusing more and maybe spending more and maybe withdrawing more. So, sometimes it can be quite hard to tell. But if in doubt, talk to someone, that would be my top tip. And the other side of that, Jeremy, is really what you alluded to with, well, you know, careers, career misfits and career stress can actually take us towards depression and anxiety. It's five days a week, if we're not really fulfilled for five whole days a week, I'll be honest, a lot of my new clients come to me, and they're either depressed or sliding in that direction, and that's where really proactively getting to know what you need to be happy, what are your core values and drivers, what's your roadmap for happiness, literally, to say it can have a 360 impact on your happiness is an understatement. So, I'll give you an example. A recent client, a delightful girl, really creative, came to me, she was, again, quite typically veering towards depression, she was really unfulfilled in her job, very bored. She didn't understand why, which added a huge layer of stress. It was beginning to impact on her romantic relationship, and she was panicking. But she very quickly got clear within three sessions on why she was so unhappy. Why? Because she got clear on her values, the core needs that she needed to be meeting in the job. And as soon as she got clear on that, the whole weight lifted off her shoulders, and she actually quit her job and is now being offered a fantastic job in Amsterdam, in a dream role, simply because she got clear on her values. So, we can proactively approach well-being like that and sort of minimise the risk of things like depression and anxiety from being triggered from very common problems like career unhappiness, and obviously, then there's the more kind of reactive, somebody who's exhibiting signs and symptoms, or maybe they need to really be getting some more kind of long-term professional support potentially.

Jeremy Cline 15:48
This is a timely reminder that I'm definitely going to do another episode on values. It's something I've covered before, but it does keep on coming up and keep on coming up again. So, note to self, I'm going to arrange a refresher for that. You mentioned talking to someone phoning up the helpline, like the Samaritans. Many people through their job will have access to some kind of a mental health hotline. For people who are perhaps a little bit apprehensive about using that sort of service, what can it look like? How does the conversation tend to go?

Melanie Pritchard 16:21
It's a really good question, Jeremy. So, as you say, lots of companies, fortunately, have employee assistance programmes or helplines. They're usually completely confidential. So, I think sometimes there's a fear as an employee of will it be confidential, because it's through work. That's certainly something I've heard in training sessions with employees. Sometimes what I also find, Jeremy, very commonly, you can do all this training with companies, they end up having 16 mental health first aiders, fantastic, and then you say, 'So, guys, who are the mental health first aiders? Or tell me about the employee assistance helpline', and nobody actually knows. So, you can have all these wonderful resources, but there needs to be appropriate marketing for companies and HR teams, and that might look like posters on the back of toilet doors, it might look like information at the bottom of email signatures, it might look like regular emails to people just reminding them of the benefits. It might look like anonymous quotes from people who have used these fantastic helplines. In terms of the substance of what you might chat about in one of those sessions, I would very much imagine it like any therapy session, and that can vary from therapist to therapist, of course, but in essence, a good therapist will be very good at holding space for you and listening, which is the one skill that a lot of even well-meaning friends and family don't necessarily have, because either they're too close, or they're simply not trained in active listening, which leaves people feeling really seen and really heard, and sometimes just that act of sharing your stress can really lighten the load.

Jeremy Cline 17:50
Is there anything to be said for journaling, as well, as a means for doing this? So, I suppose someone who might be very apprehensive about sharing with someone else, just as a first step, is just writing things down. Is that an effective first step?

Melanie Pritchard 18:07
I think it's a wonderful idea, Jeremy. I mean, I've certainly done journaling and recommend it to clients a lot. I would say journaling is a brilliant way to, firstly, have an outlet for sharing. So, you might think, 'Well, no, I'm not ready to talk to someone.' That's okay. Journaling is a bit like having a diary. Think back to when you were sort of seven years old, a diary with a magic key on it. So, we often write down the truth in our diaries, don't we? Because nobody's watching, no one's spying on us. And there's something about, whether it's saying the truth to someone or writing down the truth, that is very cathartic and very important. So, it can really help you connect with things that you might otherwise maybe minimise. 'That's not important, you know, it doesn't matter.' And maybe you find that, when you actually journal about it, you notice, actually, I can read here that I'm really quite distressed by this, and maybe you turn back in your journal, as I sometimes do, maybe two, three, four months, and I start to notice the P word, patterns, and I think, 'Gosh, I'm noticing here, I often minimise this one thing that keeps on happening in a relationship. Maybe I need to pay careful attention to that.' So, it can really increase our self-awareness and our self-development in that respect.

Jeremy Cline 19:09
So, once you've been through the process of having this outlet, be it an initial conversation with someone and conversation with someone professional or journaling, and you start to think, 'Okay, there's an issue here, something I might need to address', what's the next step after that?

Melanie Pritchard 19:29
Yeah, I mean, again, there's so many options out there really, there's no right answer really here. For one person, it might be going and talking to their GP. Obviously, GPs are quite an innocuous and helpful referral tool. So, let's say you're worried about your husband, and men can feel more stigma around these things, a nice suggestion might be, 'Darling, why don't you go and speak to the GP if you're not sleeping so well?' And you might be thinking, 'I know probably why you're not sleeping well, but I know that you're more likely to connect with the GP, because we all chat to GPs.' So, that's certainly one option. I know of other people, they're aware that there's something that's keeping them stuck, and they reach straight out to a therapist. So, I've got friends who use BetterHelp, the app with therapists online and they're finding it really helpful, and they provide sort of weekly support from a trained therapist, and you can just sit on Zoom, very, very helpful, don't even have to leave the house. And there are lots of other interventions, psychotherapists who sort of often dive deeper into your childhood, and obviously, therapist in sort of specific areas, whether it's sort of bereavement or eating disorder related stuff, or alcoholism, drugs. So, what I would say to anyone that's confused, if they think can this therapist help me, you can always literally go on to Google. Let's say you're struggling with anorexia, for example, and Google 'anorexia', wherever you live, 'Ealing therapists', and you'll get a lovely list of people in your local area. And the trick really is to have a discovery call with maybe two or three and notice who you really feel a connection with. Because it's really important to connect with the right person. And just like coaching, or even GPs, you know, there are some good GPs, and there are some not so good GPs. So, it's important to find the right fit.

Jeremy Cline 21:05
How and when might you raise this with an employer? Because this is going to be something which definitely concerns people with the whole stigma attached, the feeling that you're letting your boss down, letting your colleagues down, that people don't necessarily understand what's going on. So, if you start to think that it is beginning to affect your work, and it is in illness territory, like a physical illness, when if at all do you start to speak to people at work, and how would you do it?

Melanie Pritchard 21:39
That's a really good question, Jeremy. So, unsurprisingly, I think the stat is something like 83% of people would rather tell their manager they have the flu than a mental illness, it probably doesn't surprise you too much. So, in other words, it often feels like a hard thing to do. And I've often had clients say, whether it's sort of students at universities or older people say, 'I've really struggled with depression, for example, or I am struggling, but I don't know whether it's risky to tell my employer. Will I be stigmatised?' Because obviously, the fears include, will I be labelled as, you know, nuts, for people who don't understand mental illness? Will I be labelled as incompetent if I tell them I'm not able to focus on work? Will this affect my chances of promotion? Will it affect any references? So, there are some huge pain points, even will I lose my job, some massive pain points here. So, I would say, if you are really struggling, in other words, your ability to function day-to-day is feeling properly hampered, I would encourage you to talk to your employer and to think who would be the least bad person to talk to at work, who would be that caring HR professional, or the person that I feel gets me most. You would hope that most line managers would have training in this area and would therefore be au fait with, you know, you're not weak, this doesn't change anything, you're a highly valued member of the team, thank you for sharing, take all the time you need. But unfortunately, that isn't always the case. Legally, it should be, because employers have a duty of care, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, to look after employee mental health as well as physical health. And they also have a duty under the Equality Act not to discriminate against people who might be struggling with disability, and that includes mental illness. But to be completely transparent, obviously, I've heard all sorts from all the companies I've worked with, some people who have opened up, and they haven't felt supported in the right way, and what might support be like, again, under the Equality Act, if someone is struggling, the employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments that might look like adapting work to flexi working, it might look like adapting someone's role. Let's say they're in a high-pressure sales, KPI-driven role, and they think I just can't hit these, I need them to be reduced. It might mean coming into work later so you can have that extra time to get your children ready for school if your partner has just left you, for instance. So, if you work for a supportive employer that has trained certainly managers in this area, hopefully, they would respond well. But it can feel intimidating. So, in terms of how you should approach an employer, I would say just very intuitively, try and speak to somebody, firstly, who is caring and you feel understands you. Because we all have different personas at work, you know, some people will be very much their authentic self at work, and everybody knows who Emma really is, you know, they know that if Emma's struggling, there's something really wrong. But you know, other people maybe hold back their true selves at work, and people don't necessarily have a sense of their sort of wider self necessarily. And that might feel trickier, a trickier conversation to have. So, I'd say the more that you can sort of bring your authentic self to work from the beginning and show people who you really are, the easier it usually is to have those conversations, because usually, you have a greater sense of connection with your line manager or your colleagues or HR, and that can make those conversations less difficult to have and you can feel safer when you share that vulnerability.

Jeremy Cline 22:47
You said that not necessarily every workplace always gets this right, but my guess is that more do than people give them credit for, and the fears that you outlined are not necessarily going to be real. I had a previous guest who described fear as false evidence appearing real, or something like that. So, even if you do have fears about being stigmatised, whether it's going to affect promotion, or how you're seen at work, or all that kind of stuff, hopefully, the likelihood is that it isn't, and it's better to just talk about it, rather than worry more about those risks.

Melanie Pritchard 25:39
Absolutely. And I would very much hope so too, Jeremy. And the good news is, in this day and age, particularly post-pandemic, that's one of the blessings, the pandemic did put mental health on the corporate agenda, it had to. So, I think, in a sense, it's the best possible time to open up if you are struggling, because so many people have been. We've all seen children running through the back of Zoom calls, we've all seen people's vulnerabilities. So, it normalised the conversation, and certainly, I'm sure that there's been a spike in training, mental health training, and training around well-being, again, I think we've all seen that, really. So, I think it's much more sort of on people's agendas. And sometimes we can make assumptions about even our own sort of managers, but we need to remember, they're human beings, too. You know, everybody struggles. You know, even people who walk around with the biggest smiles on their faces. I had one guy in a training session from a top law firm, and he opened up during the training sessions and just mentioned that he got divorced during the pandemic, and some of his colleagues nearly fell off their chairs. They said, 'I never ever would have guessed that.' And he said, 'Yeah, it was the worst time of my life.' So, I think just also encouraging companies to start the conversation in this way, it can really destigmatise a subject that is so common, it really should no longer be stigmatised. When you see senior people fessing up about their own struggles, what's it saying to young people, it's okay to be imperfect, it's okay to struggle, it normalises these chats. And that's why proactively training people on these subjects is so vital. Because just going straight for a conversation with someone that you might not necessarily have a great connection with at work can obviously feel quite scary. So, we need to proactively deal with getting to know one another better really, and normalising these conversations.

Jeremy Cline 27:19
And if you both sat in the same training, so if you've both been to one of your two-day sessions on mental health, say you and your line manager and other colleagues, then I would imagine just that shared experience is going to make it easier to discuss these sorts of things.

Melanie Pritchard 27:33
Absolutely, Jeremy. I mean, I'm thinking back to a big sort of car company I worked for, who raced cars. Sounds like a fun job actually. There was someone really senior, quite a mature bloke, who admitted that he had a phobia of buttons. I mean, can you imagine having a phobia of something that's surrounding you every time you meet someone really? But it was so destigmatising, because he was sharing this with a whole room, lots of blokey blokes there, who maybe felt, 'Oh, we can't talk about mental health, people will think we're weak', which is what men often share is the main fear of opening up. Another bloke said, 'Mate, I'm so grateful for you sharing that, I never in a million years would have guessed that someone like you struggled with mental illness.' So, you're bang on correct there, Jeremy, just sharing in these group settings, I can't tell you how it is quite magical to watch, actually, there's a really special synergy that happens. And it busts through hierarchies, mental health does not discriminate, and so many people, literally within three minutes of the course, are starting to open up and share their stories, whether it's them personally having been affected, or their wives having struggled with depression, or their sons having struggled with self-harm. Every single person there has always been touched in some way, without a doubt. Everybody knows someone who struggled. So, it's quite magical, because suddenly, people are opening up on something that remains often quite silent until crisis hits.

Jeremy Cline 28:49
Coming back round to the person who has recognised that there's an issue and has sought some kind of treatment, some kind of intervention. You talked earlier about having a broken leg or something like that, and the thing about a broken leg is that you've got a fairly good idea when it's fixed. I mean, you'll be able to feel it, you'll be able to walk on it, and maybe you'll have some physio, and it won't feel quite right for a while, but you'll kind of know when it's more or less there. How would you get to that stage where mental health is concerned, where you don't have necessarily the physical indicators, how would you know that you're, for want of a better word, cured?

Melanie Pritchard 29:32
That's such a powerful question, Jeremy. Firstly, recovery, we have to be very careful talking about recovery, because it can look very different to different people. So, imagine you have the broken leg, one person might always have a bit of a hobble, somebody else might be back to their normal self, or even better, they might even have a better leg or better movement after the break, who knows? And it's very much the same with mental health. So, obviously, the optimum, the sort of best-case scenario, more or less, is shedding a diagnosis. So, let's say you're diagnosed with depression, you might feel quite scared approaching the doctor, you might feel quite a relief getting that diagnosis. For one person, they may go on antidepressants, and they may also optimise their day-to-day well-being, like eating better, sleeping well, exercising more, connecting more with their friends and family. So, they may learn how to manage that depression really well. Now, one person may shed that diagnosis over time, somebody else might not. And they may manage that mental health condition for the rest of their life. And it doesn't mean that one will be happier than the other. There are also wonderful people, for example, this lovely lady, Donna, in a video I share on anxiety in my workshops, and it's really powerful, she was crippled by anxiety as a result of an operation, a pulmonary embolism she had, and the impact was huge on her life, and her family judged her, they thought what's wrong with you, you know, you see, it's no big deal, she couldn't leave the house. Normal things became so impossible for her, until she found the right therapist. For Donna, recovery looked like shedding her diagnosis, and to quote her husband, 'She's an even better version of herself now, she's everybody's go-to girl,' because she developed such high levels of empathy from her own experience, that she became like a gold standard version of her old self. And this happens a lot where people experienced struggle, and they actually, it's a real journey of self-development, cheesy as it sounds, you know. It's like the Rumi quotes. 'The wound is the place where the light enters you'. 'Adversity is the path to truth', Lord Byron. So, I would really encourage people to keep an open mind to recovery, it looks different for different people. And somebody may look physically fine, somebody might have severe depression, and you literally have no idea, because they're physically fine, they're in great shape, they seem really happy, they're really sociable. Look at Robin Williams. Classic example, the smiling depressive. You know, Ruby Wax again. You know, extreme comic figure has struggled with crippling depression her whole life. We need to be careful making assumptions about how someone seems physically, because the psychological signs and symptoms can be really quite invisible, unless you proactively really get to know somebody and are educated around how to spot those subtle signs and symptoms. Because once you know them, it's a bit like developing a sixth sense, and it's quite hard not to notice when you know what you're looking out for.

Jeremy Cline 32:10
Let's talk about prevention. And perhaps, you can talk about some of the measures that people can take to prevent mental health being an issue.

Melanie Pritchard 32:21
Hmm, brilliant question. I would say the first one, it's the V word again, Jeremy, values. I cannot overemphasise the importance of getting clear on your values. So, if any listeners are thinking, 'What the heck is a value, Mel?', a value is a synonym for drivers or needs, the things you need in your life to be happy. We all have about 8 to 12. And in essence, if you know what your values are, and you're leading your life in accordance with your values, in alignment with them, you should be feeling quite happy, quite fulfilled, maybe quite magnetic, buzzy and like, 'Oh, I feel amazing, joyful.' If you're not leading your life in accordance with your values, you're probably going to be feeling stressed, out of sorts, maybe anxious or depressed, or maybe thinking, 'What the hell's wrong with me? I don't understand.' Okay? So, let's say you're a math student, and you think, 'What am I going to do for my career, Mel?' And you think, 'I can see that my interests really lend themselves to investment banking, and my strengths, yeah, absolutely.' And you might look at your values and realise, 'Uh-oh, there's a big problem here. My number one value is work-life balance, and I ain't going to be getting much of that in investment banking!' Now, if that student went into banking, even if it really met his interests and strengths, it could cause varying, depending on the person, it could cause real levels of stress or depression if that work-life balance is a sort of deal breaker for them. So, being clear on your values is absolutely essential, whether it's assessing does this romantic partner meet my values, you know, because that can really determine your compatibility, whether it's assessing is this career actually going to fit me in the widest possible sense. Law was great for me, it fitted my strengths, my interests, but it clashed with a couple of key values, work-life balance, freedom and fun. I had a lot of fun, but I wanted more time for finding my social life. So, once you're clear on your values, it's much easier to make changes in your lifestyle with confidence, because you understand what you need to be happy, and you understand why you're feeling out of sorts. So, I would say that values are, without a doubt, the most important thing to get clear on in terms of optimising happiness. And more than that, Jeremy, it's not just in terms of supporting big life decisions, they impact your day-to-day. So, I'll give you an example. I remember standing in the shower during the pandemic and feeling a bit wobbly. I thought, 'Ooh, I'm feeling a bit sketchy today, what's going on?' So, I immediately visualised my values list, and I thought, 'Hmm, when was the last time I went out and got into nature, a key value? Oh, about four days ago? When was the last time I connected with my friends, another value? Oh, about two weeks ago? What about learning new things, reading books, listening to podcasts? Hmm, I've been neglecting that.' And I instantly felt a wave of relief, because I understood why I was feeling out of sorts. So, we need to engage in those core values, those needs for happiness, day-to-day, to optimise our well-being, and if we're doing that, I really firmly believe we can minimise the risk of mental illness. But that being said, we do also occasionally find that people are depressed, and they think, 'Why the heck am I depressed? I am so spoiled, I have all my values met.' And it could just be something chemical, something you cannot control. Again, it's a spectrum.

Jeremy Cline 35:18
That's a really interesting answer, because the stock answer that you often see to steps you can take to look after your mental health is things like getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise, getting out into nature, eating properly, all that sort of stuff. So, hearing you approach it saying the first thing is values, and that above all else, and being true to your values, living your values, and that is more important than all this sort of stuff, it sounds like there's a problem with the narrative generally, because pretty much everywhere you go, every improving-your-mental-health article you read will be something along the lines of getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise and all that.

Melanie Pritchard 36:05
Yeah, I mean, I think you're right there. I think those things are important. I mean, even if we're aligned with our values, and we're not getting enough sleep, you can end up feeling, obviously, quite out of sorts. Sleep is the bedrock of well-being, and obviously, diet, all these things do matter. But I mean, values, this is what coaching is all about. It's about authenticity. And so many people out there are not leading lives in accordance with their values. I honestly think that so many people in ill-fitting jobs who struggle with depression and anxiety could fully avoid that or turn that on its head, if they face the truth of who they are, and just dive a bit deeper. Who am I? What matters to me? What does light me up? What energises me? What excites me? Those are your values, and not ignoring the things that drain you, the things that bore you. I mean, when we actually break it down, being in a job for five days a week, if it bores you or drains you, how could you not veer towards depression, frankly? You know? And so many people Jeremy, in fact, pretty much every client I've ever worked with, is unclear on their values. And that recent example I gave you, the recent creative client whose mood literally 360 shifted, she went from depressed to super excited about a massive life change. Why? All because of values. That session was transformational. It's absolutely critical. Because your values are the things you want to be engaging with, not the things that your wife or your brother say, 'Oh, Jeremy, you should be doing this, you should be eating this, you should be doing that.' A 'should' signals misalignments, a 'want' signals alignment. What do you really want?

Jeremy Cline 37:31
That is a really positive note to end a conversation about really quite a difficult subject. So, Mel, I'm very grateful for the way that you've navigated us through. If someone wants to look at this in more detail or they need a bit of inspiration in this sort of area, do you have any resources, books, quotes, podcasts, anyone else that should follow, there's the word 'should', anyone else that they could follow that people can look into?

Melanie Pritchard 38:01
Something I really enjoy, actually, as a way to continually develop is YouTube videos. So, go onto YouTube, you can put anything in you like at all. It could be employee depression, it could be on Google to learn more about young man psychosis. And the beauty of those videos is you get first-hand accounts from people who have struggled. And you'll notice that every single person looks different, sounds different, has experienced different signs and symptoms. And it's interactive, and it's authentic, and it's courageous. And you can acquire a lot of knowledge very quickly. So, I would suggest YouTube videos on mental illness versus just reading articles. I mean, Mind is a brilliant charity, as you know, the leading mental health charity, and they have great short summaries of all the major mental illnesses out there. Very, very comprehensive. And they have videos on there as well. But YouTube is a fantastic resource. And it really gives you a picture of the full spectrum of mental illness and many different faces out there.

Jeremy Cline 38:55
And if people want to find you and get hold of you, where should they go?

Melanie Pritchard 39:00
So, my website is melanie-pritchard.com. And I'm melaniepritchardcoaching on Instagram. So, yes, you can find me on those two platforms mainly.

Jeremy Cline 39:12
I'll put links to both of those in the show notes. Well, Melanie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and talking about this difficult subject.

Melanie Pritchard 39:21
You're welcome, Jeremy, thank you for having me.

Jeremy Cline 39:23
Okay, well, I'm not sure that's necessarily a subject that you enjoy hearing about, but I do hope that at least it was useful for you and perhaps resonated with you. It's gratifying to see how much mental health awareness has come to the fore as a topic that's talked about over the past few years. But I just get a feeling that there is so much more that can be done about this. Recognising that there may be an issue and taking a first step, just an initial step, whether it's calling the Samaritans or speaking to your medical professional, it's so important just to take that first step and not wait until things become really bad. In the future, I'll do an episode on some of the practices that you can introduce into your daily and weekly lives to help you look after your mental health, be it things like journaling, meditation, mindfulness, that sort of thing. But in the meantime, I hope that what Melanie was saying was helpful for you. There's full show notes, which summarise everything we talked about, a transcript and links to the resources which Melanie mentioned, they're all this week at changeworklife.com/122, that's changeworklife.com/122 for episode 122. And one of the things that Melanie mentioned is the importance of understanding your values and checking that you're living your life in accordance with those values. It's something I've visited on the podcast before, and it's something I'll revisit again. But in the meantime, there are a couple of exercises on my website which will help you start to explore what your values might be. If you go to changeworklife.com/happy, that's changeworklife.com/happy, that's where you'll be able to get the exercises to help you to start exploring your values. For those of you who missed the announcement in the last episode and are wondering what happened to last week's episode, well, I've decided that I'm changing my publication schedule this year. So, I'm going to be releasing episodes once every two weeks, rather than once a week. And that's simply just to free up a bit more time for myself to work on a couple of other things. So, there might be fewer episodes, but the content is still ging to be absolutely fantastic. Next time, we've got another great interview, so make sure you've subscribed to the show if you haven't already, and I can't wait to see you in the next episode. Cheers. Bye.

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