Mental health and physical health are both very important to me. As an athlete, I understand firsthand how physical fitness can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing, and I suppose I’ve always had a side interest in mental health through increasing and maintaining my own physical health.
I’m not too fond of the term mental health in itself though. There’s an assumption that mental health and mental illness is the same thing. But everyone has mental health. It exists all of the time, just in varying states of being – in exactly the same way physical health exists all the time and can go up or down. It’s just that mental health has more of a stigma attached to it, and we only tend to consider it when there is a dip for some reason. That’s why it’s so important to maintain our mental health, even when we feel good.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health includes all aspects of wellbeing, encompassing emotional, psychological, and social factors. It affects how we feel, how we think, and how we act, and has significant impacts on how we handle stress, connect with others, and make decisions. Needless to say, I think this makes ensuring positive mental health a top priority.
Lots of things that we can control have an impact on mental health – like our diet, how much sleep we get, our physical fitness, and the other people we interact with. I think there’s been a collective shift towards becoming more aware of mental health issues in the last few years, and slowly people are starting to see mental health in the same way they look at physical health. Personally, I see them as both sides of the same coin.
Why is Supporting Mental Health Important in the Workplace?
We spend so much of our time at work, so it’s a no-brainer that adopting good practices and supporting mental health within the workplace can have significant impacts on employee well-being.
While everyone has their own distinct job role within a business, it’s ultimately the work we do as a team that affects our success. So it’s really important that the team is as strong as possible, and that every team member is supported in every way.
It all comes down to treating people as individuals. I like to think that Recite Me is a person-centric organisation where the person comes before the job role. When people feel valued and supported, they naturally perform to the best of their abilities, so the value of being a compassionate organisation works both ways.
What Mental Health Support Can Employers Provide?
Even though the attitude towards mental health and inclusivity is becoming more accepting, many people still feel the need to hide what they perceive as a weakness or failure, and are therefore reluctant to open up about their mental health at work. This means it’s often difficult to tell when people are struggling, because mental health problems can be more easily hidden than physical ones.
To provide a caring environment where staff excel, a “people first” approach is the best way to go. Organisations need to take on more responsibility to be aware on a top-down scale, but also encourage their teams and individual employees to be more aware and genuinely supportive of mental health across the board.
Encouraging all-round fitness is another way to boost mental health. Often, people don’t see the interconnectedness of sleep, diet, physical health, and extraneous variables like financial and legal concerns etc. Awareness of this is key so that people can ask for help before it’s too late and they become stressed, depressed, or experience burn-out.
Even small things like a few minutes away from their desk can help employees. A while back, we noticed that quite a few of our staff had backaches. So we organised for a yoga teacher to come in every couple of weeks and offer one-on-one stretches and massage. This had a big impact on mental health. But I don’t think it was just the physical relief. Just the flexibility to take a little time out of their working day had a positive effect too.
How Does Accessibility Play a Part?
I see so many synergies between mental health and accessibility, diversity, and inclusion. First and foremost, it’s just the right thing to do. But accessibility makes a huge difference to mental health in general, as people are normally happier when they feel included. Likewise, when people feel excluded or disenfranchised, they tend to have more negative feelings.
Inclusivity is at the core of accessibility. It’s about allowing a person to matter, regardless of any disadvantages or disabilities. Whether an individual is dyslexic, has a visual impairment, or speaks English as a second language, they don’t feel as alienated when society makes adjustments for them. This has a positive effect on the mental health of people who could otherwise have felt excluded because of their disabilities.
Again, it goes back to treating people as individuals and not attaching labels to problems. The premise of our accessibility software and the benefits of mental health awareness are the same. It’s about creating a positive attitude towards inclusion, rather than seeing a person’s problems as something that needs to be fixed. As Alan Weiss once famously said, “Ask your customers to be part of the solution, and don’t view them as part of the problem.”
Accessibility and Mental Health in the Corporate World
It’s great to see that more and more businesses are viewing both accessibility and mental health awareness as a competitive advantage. And there absolutely is a commercial benefit.
For example, we have been working closely with Corpwell UK lately. Focusing on corporate wellness, the Corpwell team provides a directory of business support and connects organisations that promote wellbeing and mental health in the workplace with experts and suppliers within their industry.
Mark Stevens, founder and CEO at Corpwell UK, suggested that as many as 1 in 3 employees may suffer from mental health issues that affect their work. Equate this to financial terms, and that’s anything up to 45billion GBP that UK businesses lose every year in absenteeism – and that doesn’t even account for the drop in productiveness caused by lack of presenteeism before the sick leave takes place.
Adding the Recite Me toolbar to their website is just one of the ways that Corpwell supports its clients and employees. By providing barrier-free access to information, potential negative mental health effects caused by exclusion are avoided.
What Should People Do if They’re Struggling with Mental Health?
It’s difficult, both because of the stigma attached to mental health and because nobody likes to appear vulnerable. But the key is to reach out. Everybody in the world has needed help at some point in their life, so there is no need to feel bad asking for it. With assistance from friends, colleagues, and family members, it’s easier to be systematic about the origins of an issue, and move positively to eliminate, correct, or reduce the cause.
I’m not a psychologist, but I always find concentrating on what is going good in your life always helps. Often when we are in a low mental state we tend to focus on what’s wrong, but if we take a little bit of time to just appreciate what is right, it can have a transformative effect.
Hopes for the Future of Mental Health Services
As a society, it’s to our benefit that everyone achieves good mental health. So I’d like to see schools, businesses, and communities being more consciously aware of mental health issues all year round, not just in Mental Health Awareness Week. That said, having an awareness week does give people the chance to talk about any aspect of mental health that they want to, and that can only be a positive thing.
Helping people to stay in a good place is a way better alternative than helping them out of a bad place. So in the future, I hope to see the attitude towards mental health transform into a prevention rather than cure way of thinking. With earlier intervention, we could help people keep their mental state in a positive position, which I believe is a much stronger strategy than waiting until people hit rock bottom and treating the problem with anti-depressant pills etc.
I’d also love to see more mental health officer roles within businesses. If we can implement good practices and provide support to our staff before small problems become big ones, the whole organisation will be happier and healthier.