Dealing with the 74%
BY REBECCA CLARK
According to a recent survey 74% of people feel so stressed they have been unable to cope, says Rebecca Clark, mediator at IPOS Mediation and Chair of the CMC, after attending a seminar on Mediation and Mental Health with Marie Coombes. Stress, anxiety, and depression can impact on someone’s ability to make decisions, which is crucial in mediation. Given that we cannot eliminate stress from disputes, we need to use the flexibility of the mediation process to best accommodate and protect everyone’s mental wellbeing, says Rebecca. The key thing for mediators is to create a space for psychological safety.
“Stress: it’s more common than you think…” That is the quote I noted during a sensitive, brave and informative seminar on Mediation and Mental Health run by Marie Coombes for IPOS mediators recently. The quote worried me(!): nearly everyone I meet is stressed, both in my mediation practice and on a personal level. If it’s more common than I think, then that’s really shocking.
In fact, a 2018 survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of people feel so stressed they have been unable to cope. And I suspect that most of those questioned were not involved in a dispute.
Since stress is the gateway to many mental health conditions, we are really in trouble. Every week in England, 6 in 100 people will be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder. In the UK, over 8 million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder and at any one time around 1 in 6 adults in the UK are experiencing depression.
So, where’s the mediation angle? Well, stress, anxiety and depression can manifest themselves in a mediation scenario in several different ways including sudden changes in emotions (anger, frustration and withdrawal) and in our body language (for example fidgeting, pacing and being unwilling to make eye contact). Most significantly, stress, anxiety and depression can severely impact on someone’s ability to make decisions. Given that mediation is all about exploring options and giving parties the ability to make their own decisions rather than having a court make a decision for them, anything that impacts on that ability, or the output from it, is a worry. After all, we cannot eliminate stress from disputes, and we cannot magically cure people’s mental health conditions.
So, what can we do?