With the flood of articles, blogs and vlogs dedicated to mental health awareness this week, you wonder what else you can say that would make any difference. Yet on asking myself that question, I wonder whether ‘different’ is necessary at this point. The fact of the matter is that the mental health of our nation is under strain. Without many of us talking about it and many many more of us doing something about it, this is about as good as things are going to get unless we start taking better care of our mental health.
Against a backdrop of sad tales and alarming statistics, we could be forgiven for thinking we’re doomed. The latest data from Mind tells us that a third of employees suffer with a mental health illness in the workplace in any one year and apparently half of sick days are down to stress, whether the people taking them are willing to own up to it or not.
It’s easy to be motivated by fear. The fear of being the next one to be swallowed up in the mental illness abyss. That is if you’re not already one of the many everyday people already suffering, from anxiety, depression, or something worse, I know, I’ve been there. And given that the quality of our entire existence is predicated on the quality of our mental health, it’s clear to see why this is such an important topic.
Yet how about we shift the frame. Rather than running scared, living in a state of anxiety that our mental health may fail us, how about we start looking more at the people who seem to be doing a great job of managing their mental health. The ones for whom life seems that little bit easier.
You know the people. The ones who tend to stay focused despite the distractions. Who are able to stay calm in a crisis. Who spot when others are struggling and offer words of reassurance to keep them on track. Who know their own shortcomings but aren’t derailed by them. Who make time for friends and family and get their work done. Who know their strengths and how to capitalise on them. Who seem genuinely content with their lives. I’m not saying that those people aren’t suffering and that they don’t have moments when their mental health fails them. What I’m saying is that these are the people we should be looking to for motivation and inspiration. Learning from the bright spots to help us navigate away from the dark ones.
The fact is, staying mentally well requires work. It’s requires self-awareness, compassion and discipline. It means being consciously aware of yourself, your patterns of thinking and behaviour, and your needs, and it means understanding the needs of other people too. A very human skill set yet one that many of us are still trying to figure out. And just imagine the organisations that led by these mentally fit leaders. The ones who recognise the impact of their thinking and behaviour on their own performance and on the performance of others. From my experience, it’s almost certainly the teams that are being led by these ‘conscious leaders’ who are able to better manage their own mental health. That’s because from my experience, mental wellness tends to breed mental wellness.
In a sea of distractions, whether that be digital or otherwise, becoming more self-aware and noticing what’s going on inside and around us can be tough. In fact, it’s tougher than ever, in the wake of economic uncertainty, 24/7 connectivity, and constant change. Maybe that’s why the mental ill health statistics are off the charts. Which means if we don’t start focusing on ourselves and our mental health (how to be at our best more often), things are likely to get worse.
We have a marvellous opportunity right now to work this stuff out. Not just so we can live happier lives but so we can run more responsible and happier businesses. There are too many people crippled by the fear of their mental health failing them — or dealing with the fact that it already has. Yet if we change our perspective, if we believe that this is the era in which we learn more about our mental health, our wellbeing and how to harness it, we will take some of the pressure off and we will certainly make more progress. We won’t be running scared, we will be working together, the experts, the people who are already great at managing their mental health, and you, taking better care of ourselves. And each other.
I am motivated. I’m more motivated than ever to figure this out. To help people get to know themselves better so that they can make better choices. So that they can feel better, and so they can help other people to feel better too. My aim is to help create a working world that builds on individual strengths rather than fuelling individual insecurities. A world where people can be their best selves because they know how to be.
But I won’t do it on my own. I’ll do it alongside the growing movement of people who want to achieve the same thing. And for you leaders out there, the ones who want to create a better world — better places to work that feel mentally well — ask for help. Speak to someone who can help you and your organisation to create a healthy and safe environment. Someone who can bring an objective perspective. Things may not change overnight, but they will change. This mental health thing is tricky because it’s tied up in human behaviour but with more of us talking about it, with more of us helping each other to stay mentally well, we’ll make a positive difference — for the right reasons.
If you want to have a chat about this and your aspirations for your own team or organisation, I’d love to chat firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read more about becoming conscious and how to take better care of your mental wellbeing in my book The Conscious Effect: 50 lessons in better organisational wellbeing https://www.amazon.co.uk/Conscious-Effect-Lessons-Organisational-Wellbeing/dp/1912555077