Lyssa Barber founded the mental health network at UBS. She spoke to us about her driving force and why this initiative is so important.
You know that list you sometimes see of ‘top 5 most stressful life events’? I suspect you’re supposed to experience them one at a time. In 2004, I managed to tick off marriage, bereavement, changing job and moving house (twice). Having carried me successfully through all those, my mental health waved a tiny white flag and I experienced a complete breakdown. Panic attacks, depression, OCD, self-harm.
With hindsight, my mental health had been poor since childhood. Mental ill-health is a combination of nature and nurture, so being the grand-daughter of a depressive hypochondriac (grandpa), and the daughter of an anxious depressive domestic violence victim (mum) somewhat raised my levels of vulnerability. Add in a messy divorce, a custody battle and limited familial support and you’ve got a perfect recipe for a child with significant self-esteem and behavioural issues which – without the right help – will mean a future of mental health struggles.
Mine isn’t an unusual story – far from it. You all know the figures; 75% of adult mental health issues start in childhood. 1 in 4 people will suffer with a mental health concern in any given year. Only 24% of us gets the proper kind of treatment. Ongoing loss to the UK economy is close to £100bn. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. So we have a problem which will take a concerted, ongoing culture shift to address.
I was extremely fortunate. My GP was really switched on with regards to mental health, and worked with me to provide the right support. I got therapy, and took medication, which worked for me. I’ve had some ups and downs since – particularly after my stepdad passed away in 2014 – but having been through it before made me better equipped to act when I realised I was headed down a spiral.
I founded the mental health network at UBS in the UK. We launched in 2015 and have over 250 members, and growing fast. Mental health and wellbeing is discussed across the whole of our UK business, with meditation, VR mindfulness, quiet rooms and Mental Health First Aiders all in the pipeline. I directed and produced our This is Me film, in partnership with the Lord Mayor’s Appeal Campaign, and recently abseiled down the side of 100 Bishopsgate to raise funds for the Samaritans.
I’ve done this because of my mental health issues, not in spite of them. 15 years ago I would have had neither the confidence nor the fire to achieve any of these things. Ironically, the spark of my motivation to help change the business approach to mental health happened back in 2004, when I approached my then-boss with the news I’d been signed off work with depression.
“I don’t really believe in depression”, he said. In one glib sentence erasing my lifetime of struggle.
Well, I believe in it, and I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that. I want a better understanding of mental health & wellbeing for everyone, in any size firm. I believe passionately that good levels of mental health & wellbeing are needed for everyone to really thrive. And thriving, engaged employees boost productivity. Check out the data.
I’ve been delighted to see the groundswell of focus on mental health over the last couple of years, and excited about the potential for positive change through events like This Can Happen. If you’re coming along, do grab me and say hello!