An epidemic in a pandemic
1 June 2020
We are at risk of developing a crisis within a crisis – an epidemic in a pandemic – if we do not step up our approach when it comes to mental health support.
With the past couple of months having been some of the most turbulent times our country has faced, and with mental health becoming physically felt by many, we have an opportunity to reset, and to make a post Covid world one where mental health support is a given.
Having the rug pulled from beneath your feet is no metaphor when mental health challenges really hit home, which is something Tazz Gault has experienced first-hand. It’s also one of the reasons she founded InvestWell; a community dedicated to changing the relationship between startup and investor when it comes to mental health. With years working in and founding startups, as well as in the investment and tech agency industries, she shares her insight in nurturing healthy teams to healthy minds.
You’ve experienced various industries across the startup, investment, technology and agency fields – do you think mental health is viewed differently across these?
It’s fair to say that the subject of mental health – and indeed, whether businesses feel comfortable to even call it that – is much louder in certain industries than others. If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we all have mental health; the uncertainty and tickling anxiety we’ve felt over the past few months has, in many respects, helped us to appreciate this. There is often a glimmer of hope within times that feel too much.
But I do think, in my experience, the way industries view and handle mental health can really vary, and that’s often down to the dynamics within relationships.
We have a tendency within our culture to analyse the hierarchy or the precedent to understand how we are supposed to act, and that’s where problems arise. Industries with more complicated dynamics, such as the investor to startup relationship, can mean mental health is much lower on the agenda, or things are overlooked.
Within InvestWell, our goal is to amplify the mental health conversation and support investors to level the playing field within their portfolio relationships, to prevent stepping in only at ‘crisis point’. Providing tools, structure and support networks are vital, but so is constant conversation.
What are some of the best mental health support systems you’ve seen put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic?
I’ve really appreciated seeing the human side of many businesses come to the forefront in response to the pandemic; it feels as though in being forced to re-evaluate priorities in all aspects of life due to the lockdown, business has also seen just how valuable their teams really are.
At Digital Detox, our response has been led by the team. The first few days were focused on getting the practicalities right: Slack statuses, lunch Zoom tables, 5pm hangouts, kitting out our home office, and most importantly, reassurance our business can operate as usual, even from home. Whilst practical, these steps are vital to managing the anxiety that arises from uncertainty, to help provide some form of structure in an unstructured world.
But it’s the human element that I think makes Digital Detox really stand out. Everyone has been told that the company will not be measuring performance in quite the same way as we would be in the office, because nothing, other than still working as a team, is the same. We’ve had mental health workshops with incredibly personal stories from all Directors, flexibility on working hours with no catch involved, regularly reminded to take time out, DJ sessions, yoga, and have even volunteered to take part in some external research around wellbeing at work, to keep ahead of how best to support.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: mental health is a constant conversation and journey of taking a few steps forward, and sometimes a few back. This kind of support ingrains mental health into everyday life, and respects it for what it is.
How can we best support our teams in their mental health during this time?
Mental health isn’t something you go through and come out the other side, although is regularly viewed or written about as such. It always needs improvement, nurturing, understanding or some level of attention, and requires an environment that offers the opportunity to express our feelings without judgement.
Many businesses, and in good faith – because really, these are the ones ahead of the curve, if you’ll pardon the Covid-like language – are offering some really great services to enable their teams to better their mental health. But sometimes, this is where it stops. In order to normalise speaking about our feelings and their impact on our lives, we need to partner this approach with one that comes hand-in-hand with talking. Structured or unstructured, the freedom to talk allows us to nurture our mental health in a way that suits us best, sometimes without realising it.
Seeing people thrive on a personal level should be just as rewarding as sharing in their professional success. In fact, they’re intrinsically linked, which means you shouldn’t have to choose between the two.