Sanity in the City - Part 2
Posted by Leon Hubert
25th Sep 2015

The Priory Group shared this blog excerpt with us, written by one of their former patients. It is part of a 6-part series dealing with mental health in the City. To read more and to find future updates please visit the blog.

Stigma in the Workplace

I didn’t even make it to 09:15 on Monday morning this week without someone describing a client as ‘bipolar' in a meeting.  I didn’t make it to 10:30 before hearing someone else called 'schizophrenic'.

If you listen closely, you will hear people or acts being described in pathological terms all day – ‘That’s crazy’, ‘She’s nuts’ etc. See if you can count the number of times you hear something like that before noon today.

It also seems that bipolar is the new schizophrenia for lazy insults about people you don’t agree with. You used to hear people casually dismissed as schizophrenic all the time in everyday conversation. I liked to challenge those who did so with a list of clinical questions such as ‘Do they have auditory/visual hallucinations? Is there evidence of psychotic thought patterns?’ and so on. 

Challenging stigma with humour

It makes people think twice about it but it also brings it out into the open, challenging stigma in a humorous way that might provoke deeper reflection. I think challenging with humour is more effective than a furrowed-brow serious issue approach. When I challenged my boss on describing someone as bipolar to me, he said he was sorry, he just thought it would resonate with me. That was such an absurd excuse I had to laugh.

That got me thinking about whether this language infiltrates the workplace because of the frenzied nature of much of the work in the City. It is a place of extreme pressure where you commit to projects that will require all of your resources. All of them. Completing a deal is an intense process whether in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) or raising money from investors for a bond issue.

Sleep, therefore, is regarded as a luxury. The impact of lack of sleep is well-documented – anxiety and depression for sure, and psychosis too.

I recall times where I have worked 16-hour days and had three hours sleep and then been expected to make major, rational decisions. At the time, adrenaline can keep you going and it becomes your life. For me, the problems came when the crisis was over and I felt I had no real short-term goal. Rather than welcoming that, I found it uncomfortable.

This kind of behaviour continues to be encouraged and rewarded. I think we all have stories of this leading to megalomania and the cult of the personality and that can’t be healthy for anyone. Elevated self-esteem is just as bad as low self-esteem in my book. What happens when you realise that you’re not better than everyone else? When you’re made redundant and you discover that you are as expendable as everyone else?

I have a favourite anecdote about someone from Human Resources (HR) who was given the unenviable task of telling a senior banker that his behaviour meant that all of his staff (a trading floor of up to 100 people) were afraid of him. His response? To open the door of his glass office and bellow to the whole floor “They better be scared!” before slamming the door and summarily dismissing the HR person.

Read the rest of Part 2 of Sanity in the city here.


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