Rachel Arkle: The five things you need to understand about mental health

Wellbeing

Mental Health is here to stay.

The latest BITC (2016) statistics show related issues are on the rise, with 77% of us suffering from poor mental Wellbeing Focus Week 2015health in the last 12 months.

For the sceptics, these figures simply reflect a rise in our ability to talk about a problem that has always been there. For others, this growth represents an epidemic, triggered by moderns cultures, technologies and expectations.

Regardless of where you’re at on this scale, an important thing to note is the changing role of organisations within this landscape. Interestingly 62% of poor mental health cases define work as a contributing factor. Although the cause and effect relationship between “work” and “life” is not clear cut, responsible businesses are responding. Some by acknowledging their legal “duty of care” and others as an opportunity to drive a new employee experience agenda that includes emotional and mental health.

Wherever you are at there are FIVE things you need to understand about mental health to ensure your business’ approach is considered and sustainable.

1. Understand what it means for your people

Mental and emotional health is not something only the depressed, anxious or nervous have to consider. We all have mental health. Our experience within it is ever changing, dynamic and typically forms part of a wider picture of wellbeing.

In the workplace it is often referred to as stress, but as Mind, the mental health charity articulates, it also encompasses eating problems, loneliness and sleep problems.

Understanding the key symptoms, causes and meanings for your people is critical to address mental health in a holistic, relevant way.

2. Understand who is at risk

As we’ve already touched on, our mental health reflects a spectrum from great to poor. Our current state may fluctuate in frequency, regularity and intensity. This is normal. However for some, persistent poor mental health episodes are more probable and difficult to manage.

From an organisational perspective it is important to identify who is at risk or susceptible to longer term mental health problems. Population analysis, whether it be via subjective independent assessments or historical data trends, highlight groups who are repeatedly at risk. This may be role or gender related or even geographically influenced. This exercise also highlights populations who are thriving in the environment. Both sets of information enable you to create targeted and proactive interventions for sustainable mental health at work.

3. Understand what to do about it

Last week I attended the “Wellbeing at Work Event” and heard Geoff McDonald (Global VP of HR, Unilever) and Jeremy Connick (Partner, Clifford Chance) talk openly about mental health solutions. They posed and pondered on the question,

“How are we able to roll out compliance and health & safety training so easily, yet we struggle with Mental Health”

The answer in essence is because we don’t get on and prioritise it.

Some hesitancy stems from the lack of a clear “gold standard” in training and mixed reviews on known initiatives, such as Mental Health First Aider training. However in many cases, with a little thought and expert advice, constructive training and education programmes could start imminently.

4. Understanding how to communicate

As Yoke’s partner, Investors in People states, it’s not simply doing something that solves the problem but also the way you do it. Communicating in an engaging, collaborative and empowering way is key to genuinely promoting mental health.

A few simple steps to consider are the language used around mental health. Starting with words that are relatable and co-created with your people is helpful. Secondly when embarking on the road of mental health and wellbeing, it is important to communicate it in a visible fashion with authentic leadership support. And finally create space to talk about it, whether that be by including health and wellbeing in line manager appraisals or creating specific time via wellbeing forums, conversations are king to creating a supportive mental health culture.

5. Understanding it’s a practice

If we look at our own wellbeing and mental health, we know that some days we get it right and other days we struggle. This is because wellbeing and mental health are practices.

We need to retain the same perspective within organisations. If we manage our expectations that some things we do will be well received and impactful, and that other things won’t quite hit the spot, we create realistic space for reflection and evaluation. This iterative approach is fundamental to sustainably embedding the evolving concept of mental health into your organisation.

About Rachel Arkle

Rachel has over 15 years of Management Consultancy experience and an MSc in Organisational Wellbeing. She is the key driving force behind Yoke and so excited to be at the forefront of such an inspiring industry.

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