Adenike Adebiyi, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health

Putting mental health on the diversity agenda

13 June 2019

Recently, I attended the Lloyd’s Banking Group’s (LBG) annual Diversity By Default event, at which our Chief Executive Helen Undy featured as a panellist. To my delight, the event was about all things mental health, the slogan being ‘Get The Inside Out’. Admittedly, mental health being packaged as part of diversity caught me slightly off guard as that’s not usually the first thing I think of when it comes to diversity. But upon further reflection, I think it actually makes a lot of sense.

How mental health can be a diversity issue

When we talk about ‘diversity’, we tend to think of legally protected characteristics like race and gender, etc. And those things are all important in fighting against unfair discrimination. So, it may seem strange to include mental health among them because beneath those differences we all have mental health in common. But I think there is also a place for mental health in the conversation about diversity and inclusion, especially because each of those characteristics can interact with – and even affect – our mental health.

As we think more about ways to make our worlds and workplaces more representative and inclusive, it’s important to remember that one in four of us struggles with our mental health. So, although it is true that everyone has mental health, it’s also true that not everyone experiences problems with their mental health, and even among those who do, no two experiences are exactly alike. Stigmatising people with mental health problems can, like other diversity issues, give rise to unfair treatment. So, in the spirit of treating others as we wish to be treated, it makes sense that we think about ways we can be more inclusive by extending more compassion to people experiencing mental health problems, and reduce the stressors in their lives. This event was dedicated to doing just that in very practical ways.

Mental health inclusivity

There are countless ways of creating inclusive environments for people with mental health problems, and it’s exciting to see the increasingly innovative approaches to addressing these issues. At the event, we heard from founders and firms who produce interesting tools – for example, apps offering guided meditations and notification alerts with inspiring mantras, or a digital database that points you to mental health support near you. I found it very encouraging to see a lot of brain power and creativity being put into transforming people’s lives.

The role of technology was discussed at length, and Helen made an important point about the need to be specific when talking about technology because it’s too broad a category to critique. Instead, she said, we need to name things and how they impact people’s lives.  One way Money and Mental Health is working to achieve systemic inclusion is through encouraging firms to take a ‘universal design’ approach to their services, ensuring their systems are accessible for everyone, including people with mental health problems. We’re also working with the FCA to explore how financial data can be used to support people with mental health problems, as well as partnering with fintechs to design useful apps as part of Nationwide’s Open Banking For Good challenge.

Nothing about us without us

The concept of co-design was also a big theme at the event. This is the idea that when solving a problem, the people whose problem it is should have a say in deciding how best to solve it. So, inclusion in decision-making isn’t just about mere presence, it’s also about participation. One way to do this, as Sara Weller CBE, Non-Executive Director of the LBG, put it, is to ask “what did I need when I was in that situation?” if you are or have been directly impacted by the problem.

If not, another way is to invite the input of the group concerned, and ask them to conceptualise the problem and feed into coming up with the solution. This is why people with lived experience of mental health problems, either directly or indirectly through caring for others, are at the heart of all that we do at Money and Mental Health. Our Research Community is made up of thousands of people who don’t just help us understand the link between mental health problems and financial difficulty, but also help us to think through solutions to break that link.

Altogether, I think there are significant overlaps between the diversity and mental health conversations we’re having. So, as we strive for diversity in who appears at the table, let’s also be mindful of being inclusive about how people are feeling at the table.