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Should we reframe mental health?

by Alex Hyde on 04 Dec 2019

BIE hosted a dinner for senior HR directors and finance leaders to encourage open and honest discussion on mental health in the workplace.

In recent times, the mental health and well being agenda has become a dominant topic in business. We’d suggest this is for two main reasons:

  • Businesses are recognising the importance of mental wellbeing on work performance and its link to retaining talent.
  • The stigma is starting to fade. Individuals and employers feel more able to have open conversations about mental health as a subject – ten years ago, this simply wouldn’t have been the case.

With this in mind, we held an event in conjunction with experts in this field, Dr Nick Taylor, Clinical Psychologist and CEO/Co-founder of Unmind and Laura Willis of Shine Offline.

Here are some of the highlights from the discussion.

Reframing mental health

In the 1920s we had a revolution in dental health. In the 1970s we had a revolution with physical exercise. Both centred around prevention and highlighted the benefits and opportunities to everyone.

However, when it comes to mental health we are often faced with negative messages and imagery. Yet people can be in deep depression and still laugh, be experiencing significant levels of anxiety and be able to deliver under pressure.

Wrapping mental health in negative messaging may be acting as a barrier to progression. After all, we know that people tend to avoid things that make them feel uncomfortable. Would we buy toothpaste if the packaging depicted images of rotting teeth?

We tend to focus on mental health as a problem. We believe it is time to move the discussion on and focus on the opportunities available if we all invest in this space.

Links to good performance

It has been heavily documented that poor mental health can have a detrimental impact on work performance. It is given as one of the primary reasons why businesses should invest. According to the Centre for Mental Health, mental health problems in the UK workforce cost employers almost £35bn. The largest part of the business cost is in the form of reduced productivity among people who are at work but unwell: or ‘presenteeism’.

However, we should be careful that we don’t further stigmatize the issue. It could leave some people with the view that if you’re experiencing poor mental health you can’t possibly perform and should therefore take a step back. Which is not always helpful. After all, you can be extremely unwell and be incredibly insightful and productive at the same time – and do some of your best work.

Some people experiencing poor mental health may want to take a leave of absence, while others will want to continue at work which often forms part of their recovery.

It’s a useful reminder that the best prevention, intervention and reaction can vary in every situation. Importantly, employees should feel able to bring their authentic selves to the workplace and be empowered to have open conversations.

Language

There was some discussion around the challenges of language used. Language is powerful and can unintentionally have a negative impact.

It was suggested, for example, that the use of the buzzword “resilience” is not necessarily helpful – either as a concept or a word. Resilience, or the perceived lack of, can be felt as a point of shame. It can lead to feelings of failure, that individuals haven’t been ‘resilient’ enough or strong enough to manage their mental health challenges better. And yet, it’s one of those terms that is still widely used within business.

It’s concepts like ‘resilience’ that will no doubt come under the microscope in the coming months and replaced will more helpful models. After all – we are all still learning in this area.

What’s more important, however, is people feel able to have a conversation at all. As long as the intention is good, a fear of using the ‘wrong’ language shouldn’t stop you reaching out to someone or prevent you starting an important conversation.

Digital well-being

It’s clear that technology has transformed the way we work and spend our personal time – often enhancing our experiences.

However, not everyone feels in control of their relationship with digital technology. As a species, human beings have not evolved to be able to process the sheer volume of digital information we’re presented with on an ongoing and daily basis. This can cause feelings of stress and overwhelm – and further mental health problems. More can be read about this in in our post here.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Nick Taylor and Laura Willis for their invaluable insights. If you have any thoughts on the issues discussed, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Alex Hyde

Written by Alex Hyde

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