Mental illness: from the Ashes to the heart of our community

Mental illness: from the Ashes to the heart of our community

By Doug KRIKLER, Chairman of JAMI.

Doug Krikler

England batsman Jonathan Trott’s decision to leave the Ashes cricket tour early because of a “long-standing stress related condition” is again a reminder that mental illness can affect anyone.

It’s a sobering thought that one of the most prolific batsmen in world cricket can be laid low by mental health problems. Others in the spotlight who have battled with depression include former England batsman Marcus Trescothick, national treasure Stephen Fry and one of the most significant figures of the 20th Century, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who suffered from what he called the “black dog”.

JAMI provides mental health services to the Jewish community in London and the south east of England, from mild to more serious conditions.

We have seen that depression and other mental health conditions, such as bipolar affective disorder and schizophrenia, do not discriminate; they affect men and women, young and old, rich and poor; people across our entire community.

As Trescothick said last week: “There’s no hiding place from it. It’s 24/7. It doesn’t take into account what house you live in, what car you drive, what job you do and how much you get paid.”

Work-related stress is not uncommon in today’s society. While the Ashes is a high-point for cricket fans, for Trott it’s his job. It’s what he does to earn a living and the cricket pitch is his workplace. Stress affects everyone differently. Some people thrive on it and use it to motivate themselves.

For others, it is completely debilitating, affecting the ability to work and to socialise as well as harming home life and personal relationships. Levels of stress in society seem to be on the rise, triggered by work pressures, family break- down and the ever-increasing speed of life.

Overall, one in four British adults experiences at least one diagnosable mental health problem in a year. Official figures released in June showed that nearly one fifth of UK adults experience anxiety or depression. It also showed that while people in work suffer from stress, the incidence is even higher among people not in paid work.

Acknowledging that we are suffering from a stress-related illness (or any other mental disorder) is not admitting defeat. Rather, it is often the first step on the road to recovery. Peer support is vital in these situations, in eliminating the stigma that is still associated with mental illness. It has been heartening to hear the reaction of Trott’s teammates, who have rallied to support their colleague. Our own community is affected by mental health conditions as much as any other. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of referrals to JAMI, many from statutory services.

JAMI has supported approximately 30 percent more people in the past year, across a wide range of conditions. At JAMI, where people in employment are suffering from mental illness, we help them to make “reasonable adjustments” for either remaining in work or returning to work. For example, where taking medication to help manage their mental health might make someone feel groggy in the morning, we could work with them to put forward a business case to their employer to enable them to start work later in the day, and also to finish later.

In a specific case, a woman suffering with mental illness found that by working fewer hours, her situation was more manageable. Jami helped her to negotiate her role down to four days a week on a temporary basis. We are helping her compile a business case to maintain this arrangement longer-term. As a society, we need to remove the stigma associated with stress, anxiety and all mental illness.

At JAMI, we believe mental well-being in the workplace should be treated in a similar way to physical well-being. The understanding shown by the England cricket team is a great example of supporting employees and colleagues with compassion and in the appropriate way.

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