Mental Health: why we need to adopt a preventative approach

Dr Nick Taylor, CEO of Unmind and global ambassador and supporter of UNLEASH.

My biggest frustration when it comes to talking about mental health in the workplace is the lack of appreciation and understanding that we all have it. Many just don’t seem to understand the value of mental health to both the individual and the company. Yet if everyone disregards mental health, then everyone loses out. Mental health is what makes us human – we need to appreciate it for what it is.

To every company that I speak to, I always stress the importance of preventative care when it comes to our mental health. This is not a novel idea, yet, surprisingly it’s not something we usually apply to our mental wellbeing. Preventative care is obvious when we look at our physical or dental health – for example, we don’t wait until our teeth have fallen out before seeking help – so why isn’t it the same for our mental health?

We know that when businesses change, society follows – so it’s important that businesses take this seriously – and the good news is that they are starting to. The 2019 Reward and Benefits Employee Association (REBA) figures demonstrated that 83 per cent of companies have looked to address the topic- clearly pointing to progress when it comes to discussing and looking after mental health at work. Yet not enough companies are taking the preventative approach that is truly needed.

According to a recent report released by consultancy Deloitte and charity Mind, mental health is costing UK employers an estimated £45 billion per year. This coupled with the physical and psychological consequences affecting the individual employee calls for immediate action to be taken by organisations. With statistics showing that 9 in 10 people have been, or will be, touched by mental ill-health at some point this year – and with the majority of our adult life spent at work – organisations have an enormous part to play in wider societal changes.

It’s time to be preventative.

This approach to mental health is key, and offers a more inclusive, holistic and long-lasting solution for employers and employees alike.

Preventative solutions help employers to create an environment where all employees can access the support and guidance they need, whether they are suffering from mental ill-health or looking to continue thriving.

Unlike reactive care only, a preventative approach also offers a long-lasting impact, providing long-term, tailored support to employees. This not only improves their mental wellbeing in the long term, but importantly drives conversation around mental health. This is central to enabling wider cultural change and a society where we feel as comfortable discussing our mental health as our physical health.

Critical to achieving this approach is technology. Through technology, we can measure and manage our mental wellbeing on a large scale, making quality and sustainable access to preventative care available to the entire workforce. Through measurement of our mental wellbeing, employees can not only proactively identify their strengths and weaknesses, but when anonymised and aggregated, data can also provide insights into the mental health of workplaces as a whole and drive change in businesses’ strategies and approach to mental health.

In this current climate, it is difficult to think of the workplace without thinking of the impact of Coronavirus. At a time when many workplaces are asking their employees to work remotely, it is more important than ever that employers address their employees’ mental health and take this preventative approach. Without face-to-face contact, employers must work to quell raised anxiety levels, enable employees to understand and take care of their mental health and provide a solution that is 24/7 and available for use everywhere.

We all have mental health all of the time, and appreciating this will be critical to how we address our mental wellbeing in, and outside, the workplace. A better appreciation and nurturing of our mental health is pertinent for a better understanding of what it is.

A preventative approach in conjunction with reactive care is the more efficient, more holistic and fundamentally better solution for dealing with mental health at work. If we truly take this approach, we can destigmatise the topic, prevent deterioration in employees’ mental health and develop a more productive, healthy and happy workforce.

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