Mental Health: Business leaders are vulnerable too

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Hygeia Conference addresses mental wellness at work

You cannot help others if first, you cannot help yourself.

In the ongoing discussion on the need for action to safeguard employees’ mental wellness, we rarely discuss how business leaders and owners struggle with their own mental health issues.

Perhaps it is because good leaders put their people first. But this will never cancel the fact that from employees to middle managers up to business owners, no one is spared from mental health issues. But if business leaders are not doing well, how can help their people and the organisation they lead, to do well?

For the first time, leadership vulnerability was the main theme during a recent conference on mental wellness at work, Hygeia, where over 200 business leaders and practitioners gathered to share experiences of how mental health issues affected their careers, businesses, relationships, and what they did to turn things around.

“We hosted this conference purposely on World Mental Health Awareness Day and invited leaders to open up about their own struggles,” explains Julian Azzopardi, CEO at Up Your Level.

“The most salient aspect of this conference was the need for a shift in mindset and approach towards mental health, moving from stigmatization and silence to openness, practical solutions, and a shared responsibility to create supportive environments for leaders in both professional and personal contexts,” he added.

A major challenge shared during the event was that leaders are constantly ‘sandwiched’ in between varying roles and responsibilities which makes it difficult for them to make important decisions.

“The reality is that business leaders and owners need to be forthright about their own struggles with mental health issues and it is this vulnerability and openness that set the tone for honest conversations about mental health, making it clear that no one is immune to such challenges, not even leaders,” added Julian Azzopardi.

It was found that 65 per cent of those attending the conference were not aware of a Mental Health policy guiding business practice in the mental wellness space. For this reason, a workshop was organised on how to design a mental health policy to safeguard employee mental wellness.

The conference emphasized normalizing conversations about mental health, with a call to action for both business owners and individuals. While business owners were urged to create psychologically safe environments for open dialogue, individuals were encouraged to speak honestly about their challenges without using mental health as an excuse to shirk responsibilities.

During the conference, past sufferers of mental health issues shared their personal experiences and stressed that personal transformation is possible but that keeping issues bottled up could become a dark and dangerous place and a slippery slope to addiction, isolation and even suicide.

“No one needs to feel alone because no one is alone, and while leaders do not always have to have the answer to every problem, managers are not always expected to make the right decision every single time.”

“Vulnerability can be a great strength in turning things around. Leaders should surround themselves with the right support structures and nurture a strong sense of purpose and direction by reminding themselves daily, that in order to help others, to serve their people, their business and their family, they need to take care of themselves first.”

Hygeia: A Conference on Mental Wellness At Work was organised by WorkingTown and UP Your Level in collaboration with WE Connect, Healthmark ltd., GVZH Advocates, Enemed, PKF ltd., Zero Bubble, Iris Thaumas, Garnish.


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