Mental Health Matters - by Petra Velzeboer
I had the privilege of speaking at Bruce Stevenson’s annual staff conference in June and was so pleased to see the progress that has been made in ensuring a mentally healthy workplace.
You may think, now why would an insurance company need to think about mental health? The truth is, we’re all thinking more about mental health at work, no matter what industry we’re in. Reports such as Thriving at Work and Seizing the Momentum highlight the cost to UK businesses when they don’t focus on the mental health of their people and give clear recommendations of steps we can take on this journey.
It’s important to understand what we mean when we talk about mental health. Many people’s automatic reaction is to think of illnesses like depression or anxiety when really, we’re talking about everyone’s wellbeing. A definition I like to use comes from the World Health Organization:
“The health of our mind is a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
One of the reasons mental health issues are on the rise seems to be connected to the fast pace of life, always being ‘switched on’ via technology and using online connections as a replacement for healthy authentic in-person connections. While technology can be used for good (for example, check out meditation apps Headspace or Insight Timer), if we don’t cultivate our ability to make conscious decisions about the notifications and noise we listen to, our cortisol is constantly raised in a fight/flight response, even though we are living in the safest time in history, and over time this can lead to issues such as burnout, physical health conditions as well as anxiety and depression among other things.
We approach training and support for companies from the perspective of connection. How do we learn the art of real conversations, of taking the time for empathy and really seeing each other? Not only does this make for a more supportive environment, but it also improves our leadership style, allows us to consistently be more productive and prevents long-term absence. According to the World Health Organization, depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, so while mental health support at work used to be a nice to have, it is now absolutely necessary in order to ensure a productive workforce. A simple framework to get you started would be the recommendations within the Thriving at Work report.
This will help inform your next steps, which could include training up your managers, mental health awareness for all employees or a mental health ambassador programme. One thing we know for sure, the business case is too clear, and it’s become too expensive not to invest in preventative solutions. However, we can also remember that this is all really quite simple: it’s our ability to cultivate empathy and truly connect to our colleagues so that we can open up and talk long before challenges reach a crisis point and are harder to fix.
So finally, well done to Bruce Stevenson for recognising and celebrating the importance of staff wellbeing by creating Mental Wellbeing Champions and organising staff mindfulness sessions withinthe business. As a company, you are indeed helping insure against risk.
By Petra Velzeboer – Mental Health Consultant – petravelzeboer.com