What actually IS mental health ?

In our workshops we’ll often ask this question; “stress”, “anxiety”, “depression” are some of the most common answers;  words that suggest a poor state of health or an illness.

In fact, mental health is actually a measure of our state of our mind.  Unfortunately, across society and often compounded by media reporting we incorrectly use ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ as interchangeable terms, fuelling both discomfort and stigma around the topic.

Our health or wellness exists on a continuum from health through to illness and mental health is no different.  Understanding this is the first step in increasing our comfort and confidence around the subject, so that we can begin to describe mental health with the same ease as physical health.

Our mental health, and that of our colleagues, is a key determinant of the workplace environment as it affects employee confidence, engagement, productivity and relationships.  If we can notice changes that indicate that we are moving away from health, either in ourselves or others and take action, then there is every possibility that we will return to health.  This does not mean that we have to train our workforce to become clinicians or counsellors; it means that we should have the understanding and confidence to talk about mental health and know where to signpost for support, both within and external to our organisation. But in the workplace, for mental health this isn’t always easy, partly because of the stigma that exists and the very real fear of discrimination.  The latest survey produced by BITC on workplace mental health indicated that 46% of employees were not comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace and 11% who did disclose, subsequently faced disciplinary action, demotion or dismissal.

The same survey showed that only 30% of line managers reported that they had received any training around mental health and many don’t know what resources are available or where to find them.   At Mental Health at Work we have seen incredible progress in the organisations in which we have worked to bring awareness around mental health in a workplace context and the skills to manage it.  We often find organisations have implemented a number of initiatives to support health, including resilience training, mindfulness and yoga, and whilst these can be helpful to some individuals, organisations are not seeing an improvement in the metrics around mental health.  When organisations invest activity focussed on improving the attitudes and behaviours around mental health, they create a more open environment where mental health is normalised within that work environment and employees feel comfortable to talk about it.  This increases the likelihood that someone will notice a change, which might be an indication of a mental health issue and seek support early, before this becomes an issue or a crisis situation.

Leave a Reply