• ClaireLouise

Wellbeing and Mental Health - get your facts straight

For better or worse, Wellbeing is all around us. Some organisations have embraced it with open arms, others with an element of uncertainty, some with resistance that would have seen Hitler defeated in days.

I used to manage a Mental Health Charity, and as a result I've seen and talked about behaviours that most people wouldn't (shouldn't) experience in the workplace. When I became a consultant, it took me quite some time to shift my understanding of 'workplace wellbeing' away from that of supporting very poorly people in a very bad place, to creating healthy, supportive workplaces where staff are helped to stay well, and not become very poorly people in very bad places.

I've made two key observations in the past year:

1. Workplace Wellbeing is very on trend, but not many people actually get what it is.

2. As a result, the range of 'support' that's being offered is inconsistent and in some cases unhelpful, potentially creating more problems than it solves.

If you want to get to grips with this, here's a starter for 10:

Wellbeing and Mental Health AREN'T the same thing. And while there's a lot of overlap, you need to understand what your Workplace Wellbeing Plan is actually there for.

Really simplistically, Wellbeing is a general feeling of contentment, happiness and a load of other positive emotions, and the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), though EVEN THIS statement can lead to a belief that if we feel unhappy, our wellbeing is poor. This is complete b*llocks - it just means that you're having a bad day, or that something pants has happened to you - the important thing is to be able to assess whether the emotional response you're having to a situation is appropriate (and obviously this is a subjective judgement that will differ from person to person).

Wellbeing can be supported in the workplace by a whole shed load of diverse activities that focus on encouraging positive relationships, increased activity and personal development (feeling more confident in your ability and appreciated by others). None of this is rocket science, and a solid Workplace Wellbeing Plan should rock in these areas. Involve your staff, encourage people to take ownership and create an environment in which this can flourish.

Moving now to Mental Health (MH). Again, I'm super simplifying here, but poor MH is an illness - something in your brain isn't working properly, for various reasons - trauma, physical damage, chemical imbalance, a genetic pre-disposition. We still know so little about how our brains work. MH illnesses frequently require medical support, for example anti depressants, anti psychotics. We also know that non-clinical interventions, for example exercise, can produce chemicals in the body that tackle these imbalances (https://redtogether.co.uk/ is a marvellous example of this). Talking therapies like Psychotherapy and CBT can be very helpful in supporting people to develop coping strategies.

So where do Wellbeing and Mental Health overlap?

1. People with poor Mental Health tend to manage their illness better if they have good Wellbeing. This means they're active, have loving family relationships, and are valued and included by their peers. This is where a great Workplace Wellbeing Plan is really important in supporting staff with identified MH problems.

2. People with poor Wellbeing can develop poor Mental Health. This is where a great Workplace Wellbeing plan is really important in preventative activities to boost Wellbeing.

So what should your Workplace Wellbeing Plan look like?

It should be unique and relevant to your organisation, but consider the two key elements above to be inclusive of both people with and without pre-exsting MH conditions.

A fundamental operational issue for most SME's however, is the structures you have in place to support staff members who have poor MH (or are close to or carers of someone with poor MH). Who is providing this support, and how do you make sure that they in turn are supported? I'd suggest having a designated staff member in an appropriate role (eg HR) trained in MH First Aid. Ensure other staff know the limits of conversations with team members and the point at which a referral to a trained staff member is made.

Don't be scared of this, just be prepared! Taking a positive approach to Workplace Wellbeing will futureproof your organisation and keep staff healthy, happy and productive, at the end of the day. What's not to love?

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