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The State of Play in 2022 – changing attitudes towards mental health

As I enter 2022, I’m confused.

“Wasn’t last year 2020?” 

“When did we enter Lockdown again?” 

“Was that the first Lockdown or the 3rd one?”

My sense of time has blurred and I am struggling to process the enormity of the last two years, the COVID pandemic and the way the world, and our attitudes and behaviours have changed. All of this against the continued backdrop of a pandemic that I’ve already thought once before, was at its tail end. 

I, like many others, have had my own experiences over the last couple of years and my life has immeasurably changed. As a collective, as a society, as a country and world we have all experienced great change. 

This is my attempt to make some of that change coherent, to map it out, to organise it and file it, so I can understand it and hopefully you can too. 

I write this through the lens of mental health and through the lens of work, because both mental health and work have immeasurably changed. 

The COVID pandemic has dramatically accelerated our cultural awareness of mental health. COVID, self-isolation and imposed rules of lockdowns gave us all a shared human experience. The difficulty of this period gave us all permission to struggle, it gave us all permission to be vulnerable, it gave us all permission to talk about mental health. 

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we’ve removed the stigma of mental health. I think that would be a much too generic statement. There will always be stigma in mental health and there will always be parts of our humanity, our culture and our world that are taboo topics. However, awareness of mental health on a physical and embodied level I do believe has penetrated every level of our society in the UK. I believe in terms of an awareness of mental health – we are at mass-market adoption on that front. 

To expand on that and to double down on the profound nature of the last two years. The type of environment we have been living in has created a container for radical human experiences that have been extreme. Isolation, not being allowed out of the house, reduced social contact and a complete stripping back of “social life” has created the opportunity for startling experiences. 

Everything from deep depression and anxiety all the way to deep gratitude and love for life. The pandemic has sharpened people’s experiences with mental health and given us nowhere to hide from them. This long period of both solitude and isolation has led to many people having great awakenings in their life. 

For many workers, work has been reduced to a laptop on a desk. Our work has been disarmed to it’s most boiled down and primitive form. Again, no matter how hard we’ve all tried to make work fun and enjoyable, the bare bones of what one does for a living has been exposed for one to truly see it for what it is. Remote working and attitudes to remote working have exploded, creating great challenges and great opportunities that continue to be debated. Yet the certainty is that remote work has let people see their work in a different light and ask themselves the existential question; “do I want to do this?”

An almost-unbelievable 95% of respondents in Monster’s June 2021 survey were thinking about quitting their jobs.

Now, we are seeing the impact of all of this reflection and quiet. The “Great Resignation” or as I prefer to call it “The Great Awakening”, has created huge ripple effects in the world of work. People are voting with their feet and leaving their jobs either for a better offer or for nothing at all. Engagement levels are low and HR teams cannot un-see how disengaged people are.

Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workplace report found that only a measly 15% of workers were engaged at their current workplace.

There’s been a power shift because of these profound experiences with mental health. People (employees) are leaving, walking away, handing in notices and the “talent wars” have begun; both for keeping current staff, while attracting new talent. 

53% of employers said that they are experiencing greater voluntary turnover than they had in previous years.

I’m writing here about some quite commercial topics; employee retention, candidate attraction, employee attrition and inevitably company performance. Don’t be fooled though, this isn’t all about workplace HR strategies, the underlying driver here is societal shifts in mental health awareness, resulting in collective behavioural change. 

The world has changed because of the people in it. Many of us have changed. We have changed who we are, what we value, what we believe and in turn what we prioritise and how we act. The results are enormous. 

I believe we only have one choice, which is to accept our new realities and respond to them. To resist, to push it all away, pretend we never really thought about leaving our jobs or pretend it will all get better when we’re in the office is futile. 

We are all part of creating our new culture. Whether that be workplace culture or culture towards mental health, we are all actors in it and it is time for us to act. 
The statistics I have referenced in this article above are all available in this 20 page pdf from Sanctus which lays out our current state of reality for all to see.

You can download that here.

Download here