It’s easy to be cynical when a high-profile person cites ‘mental health issues’ as a seemingly convenient excuse for poor behaviour. But psychologists say there is room for both empathy and accountability and are calling on organisations to have meaningful preventative measures in place for high performers.
WHEN former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro cited mental health issues in refusing to appear again before the parliamentary inquiry into his appointment as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to America, the public reaction wasn’t entirely empathetic, and some commentors responded with eye rolling and frustration.
It is becoming increasingly common for high profile individuals to point to mental health issues when called out for bad behaviour. So how do we balance the need to address situations of concern with the need to protect and respect an individual’s mental health?
Psychologist Jane Enter has decades of experience working with high profile individuals, many times during crisis situations. She says there is room for both empathy and accountability.
While there’s often little sympathy on the street for high priced CEOs and the like, most of us wouldn’t be in their shoes for quids. With boards and shareholders alert to the smallest misstep, and stock prices twitching in response to every move, who can these C-suite denizens talk to when things get rough? When can they let their guard down? Where can they seek solace?
With the stakes so high for executives and the companies they lead, shouldn’t their mental health and wellbeing a priority?
There is, quite rightly, an increasing expectation for organisations to provide preventative mental health care for its heavy hitters – or risk the consequences.
Stress – a double-edged sword
In its recent revision of the International Classification of Diseases, The World Health Organisation defined burn-out as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”WHO says around 35 percent of top executives are working in a state of burn out. That’s a lot of stressed-out executives.
The irony is that many C-suite execs owe their success to their willingness and ability to push themselves to extremes and work under incredible pressure.
Psychologist Tracey Gamble says most C suite executives have been promoted and rewarded for consistently going above and beyond expectations and shouldering extra pressure, but the long-term effects of this stress can be devastating.
Burnout and poor decision making
Professor Rob Phillips, CEO of Australian medical equipment manufacturing company Uscom says in some cases, stress can lead to inordinate risk taking with a low likelihood of success.
Gamble agrees, saying the fallout within an organisation of a previously high achieving executive trapped in the throes of burn out can be devastating.
Duty of care and corporate culture
Strategy and Risk Advisor Peter Deans, CEO of 52 Risks, says many companies are overlooking the mental health and wellbeing of their executives, who are often subject to unrealistic expectations.
Gamble said organisations need to do more. She says most executives she works with reluctantly self-refer for treatment, often when they are already at breaking point.
She is also aware that while she may be treating an individual, there may be a wider company culture to blame.
Gamble believes corporations need to undertake wide ranging in-depth conversations with their executives, and implement meaningful change, not superficial or tokenistic gestures with no real substance.
Companies must focus on prevention as well as crisis management
Simpson says in acute or crisis situations, Raindrum aims to engage with each individual and corporation to provide a discreet, situationally appropriate rehabilitation program.
Ms Gamble said this health scaffolding is vital to sustainable change.
Having timely access to suitable programs to address crisis situations as part of a risk management strategy is only one component of an overall mental health program.
Simpson says preventative programs, where high profile individuals regularly undertake counselling and training, are key to reducing or avoiding crisis situations.