Mel Kenny: Battle to end mental health stigma far from over

By Mel Kenny

Feb 05, 2019

am no longer the baby-faced financial adviser I used to be and, with hair losing colour, last year I decided to keep in with the youth at work by accepting their invitation to join their fantasy football league. I nearly won it last season after a slow start. This season, I currently sit top of the expanded 15-team table. 

Fantasy football seems to be a big movement. Just the other day, I was speaking with a friend that works for a major investment bank who told me that, as part of a new employee’s introduction, they are provided with the pin code to join the firm’s work league.

For sure, participation in this is a really easy way to integrate. Football breaks down all sorts of cultural barriers across the world, let alone in the workplace.

But then I can also see how the easy, shallow chat of football can hide the true reality of mental health, especially in men.

I was challenged by a fellow volunteer at Crisis at Christmas who, as a Romanian recently taking residence in the UK, said she was puzzled by the question “how are you?”. To her cultural dismay, it seemed to only generate a one-word answer: “Fine”.

Trying to explain at 3am that it was a way of saying “hello” was challenging.

Nonetheless, the point is that, whoever we are – whatever gender, fantasy football players or not – time must be found to pause and focus on both our own mental
and physical health, and that of others.

With our brains not designed for the fast-paced world we live in today, keeping the stiff upper lip is difficult.

So it is good to see initiatives within our profession that acknowledge the benefits of aspiring to maintain good mental health.

For instance, the Chartered Insurance Institute ran a session on it last spring, with mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin sharing his incredible story.

More recently, insurer Vitality has been encouraging the nurturing of mental health, with mindfulness activities rewarded with Vitality points for undertaking them.

That said, insurers still have a long way to go to tear out the pages of negative stigma.

For too long, private clients have felt singled out and penalised for adverse mental health, no matter how long ago the symptoms occurred.

The biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide and, while I have just edged the other side of that age range (men then just slip into another one – heart disease), the mere mention of my being at the top earlier is once again a classic symptom of trying to show the best side in the hope of gaining acceptance.

Mel Kenny is a chartered financial planner at Radcliffe & Newlands

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