Mental Health – A Pinch of Optimism

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The last ten years have clearly seen the lifting of the taboo around mental health, including mental well-being in the workplace and, more generally, mental health in society and across many demographics. There is more to do, but the change has been demonstrable.

The 2017 Thriving at Work Stevenson/Farmer review on mental health and employees put the cost of poor mental health to the UK economy at between £74Bn and £99Bn annually. The review also produced many excellent recommendations on how government, society and employers could work together to improve all of our mental wellness.

Leading the change are the 200+ companies who have signed up to the Mental Health at Work Commitment, which “comprises a set of actions that organisations can implement to support and improve the mental health of their employees.” Indeed, and not just from groups such as Mental Health at Work, there are a myriad of resources available to us, both as employers and employees, that can help us understand, measure and manage our own mental wellbeing.

So, what’s the problem? The stigma of suffering with poor mental health has, to a degree, been lifted with many high profile cases such as Antonio Horta-Osorio, CEO of Lloyds Banking Group, who took time-off with a stress-related condition (and was supported by his Board); while awareness and resources are legion.

The problem, as we see it, is broadly two-fold. Firstly, how do we make the cultural changes in large organisations that drive real, fundamental and long-lasting change (as opposed to mental wellbeing merely being a tick box, once a year compliance exercise)? Secondly, and we’ve been as guilty as anyone in referring to ‘work-related stress’, most of an individual’s mental wellbeing will be dictated by factors outside of the workplace and, then, how much you put up with in the workplace will be governed by external factors such as paying the mortgage etc.

In reading around the topic, I actually felt a sense of hopelessness. I was learning of new apps (meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm) within a mindset of pessimism. How is 30 minutes of meditation going to help if you’re behind on your mortgage payments? Have they not heard of the retreat of the middle class?

I also read (and apologies I can’t cite this) someone describe pessimism as living through bad times twice; once before *it* happens when you’re worrying and being pessimistic, and then again if/when *it* actually happens (whatever *it* is).

If the organisation we’re looking to change is a supertanker (very slow to see the effects of a change of course) which is sailing on the uncontrollable, high seas (our society) then the optimist says that, in the here and now, as travellers on that ship we can only control what we can control. The availability of a plethora of resources to help with our mental wellbeing is then a positive as we can find that which helps us improve our wellness in the moment. It may be a meditation session, an exercise program, or simply someone you can talk to in an open and honest manner.

Unilever developed their own wellbeing app, called ClickWell. While you’re waiting for your supertanker to change course, perhaps you can create a wellness environment within your own corporate communication platform? Or, encourage access to platforms such as Engage Works where employees can gauge and track their own mental wellbeing surrounded by resources that provide support?

Yes, there are some major glacial shifts that still need to occur, but the optimist in me sees a vast array of tools that can help along the way to improved mental health and a better society. Remember, simply asking someone if they’re OK could be the first step in improving their day.

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