We’ve all got Mental Health
In recent years we have seen a seismic shift in the way we talk about mental health. In 2017 the Thriving at Work report set out what employers should be doing to better support employees’ mental health and enable them to remain in work. Fast forward to Spring 2023, and the government has introduced a £400m support package for employees which will include access to digital resources and health checks to improve mental health and address long-term sickness.
What we have seen in the past few years is a tendency to ‘over-medicalise’ mental health and an assumption that everyone with a mental health concern needs specific treatment. What has perhaps been lacking is an understanding of the underlying and contributory risk factors and how to manage these to prevent ill mental health in the first place. The government’s latest initiative goes someway to address this, although how this will work in practice remains to be seen.
For employers, it starts with refreshing the way we think about mental health. If businesses can start to normalise the way they talk about mental health and make support more accessible and less clinical, employees are more likely to engage in a more preventative approach. We all know the benefits of looking after our physical health. What we need to create is the concept of ‘mental fitness’ so that we all put some time in our daily routine to look after our mental wellbeing, just like some people do by going to the gym for their physical health.
It is often quoted that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year, but we believe that 4 in 4 of us have ‘mental health’. It’s not a disease, or an affliction, but an inextricable aspect of being human and we have a responsibility to maintain our mental fitness. Businesses that enable employees to take care of their own mental health, offer interventions that tackle wider risk factors and take a personalised approach to wellbeing are likely to experience a reduction in long-term sickness absence. Of over 34,000 assessments, we’ve been able to support 38% of people with self-help and guided self-help measures. The remainder are supported by a matched care model which ensures appropriate interventions for each employee.
Clinical interventions such as talking therapies or counselling have an important role to play, but they are not always necessary, in the same way that physiotherapy is not always necessary for people with back pain induced by poor posture sitting at desks. That’s why the matched care model is an important factor in determining what is appropriate for each employee. Similarly, Employee Assistance Programmes or private healthcare plans, while important, are not enough on their own. The focus needs to shift to how we look after ourselves and each other better, encouraging compassionate, open conversations about how we manage our wellbeing.
It is important to recognise that we have a personal responsibility to look after our own emotional wellbeing through social contact, personal interests and pursuits, healthy nutrition, being physically active and getting good sleep.
There is an opportunity here to nurture our most important resource, human beings, by normalising mental health and by providing accessible health and wellbeing support services that recognise that ‘mental health’ is a human state, that is susceptible to the ebbs and flows of life but does not always need to be ‘treated’.
This positive shift in how we perceive mental health can be seen in the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, that encourages us to recognise that anxiety is a normal emotion in all of us, which can sometimes spiral and become a mental health problem. They are encouraging people to talk and share their experiences of how they cope with feelings of anxiety #ToHelpMyAnxiety.
During Mental Health Awareness week, you are invited to do three things:
- Join in the conversation #ToHelpMyAnxiety.
- Hold a Wear it Green Day on Thursday 18 May – or whenever is good for you, as we need to be supporting good mental health throughout the whole year.
- Get tips on how to cope with feelings of anxiety – the Mental Health Foundation has a useful list of techniques and suggestions.
For more information about this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week visit https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week or join the conversation on social media using #ToHelpMyAnxiety and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek