Parachutes a wonderful invention
Leonardo da Vinci conceived the idea of the parachute in his writings. Frenchman Louis-Sebastien Lenormand fashioned a kind of parachute out of two umbrellas and jumped from a tree in 1783. It was, however, André-Jacques Garnerin who was the first to design and test parachutes capable of slowing a man’s fall from a high altitude.
The parachute, a wonderful invention designed specifically because man, as a species, was going to embark on riskier and riskier ventures. It is something designed, not to make life better or more enriching, but to save the life of someone who had decided to take up the extreme sport of trying to fly.
These days it has transformed from a safety product to an extreme sport all of its own.
Air travel…scary but safe
For many of us air travel is exciting at best and dull at its worst. For a significant number it is scary. Despite this significant number who are scared of flying(well of crashing really) it is well known to be the safest form of travel there is. Counting the number of flights, miles covered and passengers carried against the number of fatal deaths from flying it beats all other forms of transport.
How has it gone from being so risky that a specific life saving product was invented for it to being the safest? By owning up to and learning from every mistake made. When a fault is discovered in one plane all planes of it’s type are grounded until the fault is fixed…in all of them. If a near accident happens it is reported and lessons are learned and shared with all airlines. This is effectively the lesson behind being antifragile.
Nicholas Taleb – Antifragile
Nicholas Nassim Taleb wrote his book Antifragile. The core idea behind this book is simple. Nassim Nicholas Taleb divides the world and all that’s in it (people, things, institutions, ways of life) into three categories: the fragile, the robust and the antifragile.
You are fragile if you avoid disorder and disruption for fear of the mess they might make of your life: you think you are keeping safe, but really you are making yourself vulnerable to the shock that will tear everything apart.
You are robust if you can stand up to shocks without flinching and without changing who you are.
You are antifragile if shocks and disruptions make you stronger and more creative, better able to adapt to each new challenge you face. Taleb thinks we should all try to be antifragile.
How would that work if we applied it to Mental Health?
If we applied antifragile principles such as the way the airline industry does to our mental health we would first of all have to become self aware. Once we were self aware we would not simply ignore the messages our body and mind give us when we feel vulnerable and instead we would learn from them. As we learned from them our resilience would grow and we would be able to achieve more, deal with more change and generally feel more resilient than some of us do.
In the workplace it would require people to be so comfortable with each other that they learned to share their own experiences. We are not machines and thus one issue affecting a colleague does not mean we all have to take time off to fix our faults.But hearing the stories, being able to think about how we would deal with them and becoming more and more self aware would mean we were building our resilience.
Our experience in Calm People is that most workplaces are far removed from this model. In fact many are getting stuck at the parachute stage and stopping there.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the parachute stage
We have written about this before but it is worth briefly revisiting. The model of MHFA is to train people in the workplace to spot mental health issues. When they do this they are trained to have a brief chat and move that person on to a professional that can help them. That professional may be a counsellor paid for by the company Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or the NHS.
EAP schemes traditionally only offer a maximum of 5 sessions with a counselor and often only over the phone or even by text.
The NHS is increasingly finding it difficult to deal with demand. The official waiting list is 1.6M people but they estimate that 8M people miss out on mental healthcare because the service is so busy (to read more about that click here).
The real issue here is that this is a parachute. It waits until there is a crisis and then pushes the problem elsewhere. That’s not antifragile, that is just waiting for something to break before you fix it and here at Calm People we don’t think it is acceptable.
What is the alternative?
It’s the way we at Calm People and many other providers work. Our model is…
We help people to develop self awareness so that they can listen to their own intuition and take action instead of ignoring warning signs.
We give people the tools, strategies and tactics they need to build and maintain their emotional health so that they have choices about what to do.
We help people realise that doing nothing is really a good choice and now that they have the tool kit they can make healthier choices.
None of this works unless being self aware and taking action become habitual. When it is habitual, you are on your way to being antifragile, learning from your experiences and continuing to rise to the challenge.
It’s a prevention model not a parachute model
We do this through a wide range of workshops which you can view here.
We work one to one with individuals at all levels of a business and now we have the Inner Calm platform which allows individuals to work on their mental and emotional health online, in a safe private environment with proven tools and strategies there to help them.
MHFA is a decent first step in the process of building a culture of positive mental health awareness. When clients of ours ask about it, we help them with it (our own brand though Mental Health First Responder). Then we emphasise that this is only the first step.
If you only want to provide your staff with parachutes and nothing else…we are not interested in talking to you.
Parachuting as an extreme sport
I mentioned above that parachutes started off as a safety product and have now become an extreme sport in their own right. I think that is a pretty decent analogy for our mental health.
If you as a leader, business owner or an individual continue to rely only on the parachute to get you out of a crisis you are turning mental health into an extreme sport.
We will all be challenged with our mental health at some point.When you are challenged what would you rather be? …
Fragile trying to stay safe, but really you are making yourself vulnerable to shocks.
Robust where you can stand up to shocks without flinching and without changing.
Antifragile where shocks and disruptions make you stronger and more creative, better able to adapt to each new challenge you face.
I know what I’d rather be and what I’d like my team to be.
Over to you now.