Recently, I was asked if I would present to a group of business leaders about the future of mental health in the workplace. Here is a summary of what I presented…
Looking forwards to going backwards
My first observation was that while our prime minister Boris Johnson has some clever wordsmiths working for him generating headline statements such as “Building Back Better” most of the people I was encountering are talking about going back to normal. They hunger for the times they remember pre-pandemic. They long for the activities they were “allowed to do” before we locked down and as such they actually want to go back in time.
This is a perfect analogy for our relationship with stress and anxiety. When we are in the throes of worries we are either looking backwards or looking forward. We are not living in the present when we are in our worried anxious state.
Thus the idea of looking forwards to going backwards sounds strange but many feel they will find some comfort there if they could simply go back to the way things were before.
Of course, they fail to remember the anxieties, uncertainties and issues that they had to deal with in the “good old days” that they want to go back to. This is because the horror of a pandemic and the complete loss of control that comes with a lockdown dwarfs any of the issues we were worried about before.
My observation here is threefold. Firstly, if we are prone to worry, then whatever “normal” we return to we will always find things to stress about. Secondly there is no such thing as stability. There are periods of calm but life itself is continually moving and changing. We need to develop a better relationship with uncertainty. We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable because that is what the future is likely to hold. Finally, when we do get to a place where we feel safe, that is when our mental health issues will truly start to surface.
Our relationship with vulnerability
Many people in my line of work have been “talking up” the next epidemic. That of mental health. It is clear that during the pandemic the workload for our brilliant NHS has increased but that is probably the tip of the iceberg. How the true extent of our mental and emotional health challenges present themselves is really a factor of our relationship with vulnerability.
We are not good at feeling vulnerable. Most of us have been brought up in an environment where vulnerability is not valued. Acknowledging it could lead to ridicule, bullying or worse. Many people feel that if they admit they feel vulnerable in a mental health context, they will be judged, made to feel inferior and they will damage whatever career they are pursuing at that time.
It means that we don’t deal with our own vulnerabilities well and react badly to others who express their vulnerability. We feel deeply uncomfortable when we observe another person in their vulnerability because it holds a mirror up to us and reminds us of how vulnerable we can feel. So, many of us avoid situations where we may feel or experience others feeling vulnerable.
The exception is a funeral which is almost unavoidable and is a collective act of vulnerability. This, of course, is where we become completely overwhelmed by all of our vulnerabilities visiting us at once. We have opened the floodgates and the tsunami of vulnerability washes over us. We feel deeply uncomfortable and swear never to feel like that again. In other words we resolve to bury our sense of vulnerability even deeper so that it never gets a chance to surface again.
What I am saying in a long, and perhaps overly complicated way, is that we will only allow our vulnerability to surface when we feel safe enough to let it out.
This means that once we hit any kind of normal one of two things will happen. We will either see an explosion in mental health issues as we all breathe out and fall apart, or we will resolve to make sure we never let those issues we have been worrying about get air, and we bury them deep. We will fall into one of those two camps, neither of which are especially healthy.
From an employer’s point of view they will have a workforce that is broadly either storing issues up to a point when they will break down or they will already have broken down, now that they feel safe.
So what can an employer do?
Nothing is always an option. Leave it to fate and the NHS to pick up the pieces. It doesn’t feel quite the right thing to do as a “caring “ employer but it’s always an option.
Fruit Bowls, Yoga & Foosball
To be fair to the pioneers of early wellbeing interventions such as yoga and mindfulness in the workplace, they are probably moving onto other interventions that I am going to mention below. Meanwhile those who think having an office with exposed red brick work and a table tennis table in the corner as having the “staff wellbeing boxes ticked” may find things getting tough.
My point is that there are employers out there who go through tough times, spend a little budget on a one off intervention, almost as a way of saying sorry, and then continue to put their teams into ever more stressful situations and expect them to be grateful.
If you had asked me in a meeting 15 years ago about the idea of a Mental Health First Aider I would have supported it wholeheartedly. Now, my opinion is that it is becoming a victim of its own success. It is more like a training franchise and as it raises awareness of mental health in the workplace all it actually does is shift the problem as illustrated by these figures.
A Savanta ComRes poll of 513 British adults diagnosed with a mental illness found that two-fifths of patients waiting for mental health treatment contact emergency or crisis services
Of those on a hidden waiting list, nearly two thirds (64%) wait more than four weeks between their initial assessment and second appointment. One in four (23%) wait more than three months and one-in-nine (11%) wait longer than six months.
Respondents living with severe mental illness – including eating disorders, bipolar disorder and PTSD – were left waiting up to two years for treatment. Others were left waiting up to four years for treatment for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Or as witnessed in this tweet I saw a few days ago
“Therapy really helps!’
Great. Do you know where I can get it? Where it won’t cost me my rent? Where I don’t have to wait months-years for six sessions on the NHS?”
This was a tweet @hatttiegladwell (journalist) which got 26 responses, was reshared 82 times and liked 683 times in the first 24 hours.
Here at Calm People we designed and we deliver our own program which we call Mental Health for Managers which places the responsibility and the skill with those in the line. We also run Mental health First Responders for those organisations that want to spread the responsibility. Why do this when we think it shifts a problem? Well there is significant demand for it and our view is that, if it will be done we are best placed to do it properly. 10 years experience in emotional resilience and anger management versus a 7 day training course.
This is still the absolute minimum commitment to mental health in the workplace in our opinion.
Upskill your teams
This is the space that Calm People first inhabited. We have spent the last 8 years designing, planning and running workshops that raise awareness and deliver the tools, strategies and tactics that help us all be more emotionally resilient. Whether it is one to one, workshops or seminars we cover pretty much every subject that you need us to help you with.
The point here is that by giving your teams the tools to understand themselves better and build their own resilience there are wins everywhere for you. Your employees realise you are investing them as a human and thus they value you as an employer more. By delivering real life skills you are future proofing your workforce and developing a resilient workforce.
Resilient teams and leaders are more productive and make better decisions. You cannot lose out by upskilling your teams with the skills to understand and develop their own emotional resilience.
The future…mental health tech
Everywhere you look there are bits of mental health tech being developed and Calm People are no exception (except the way we do it of course). They seem to divide broadly into 3 types of application.
Let’s meditate together guys
The Headspaces and the Calms of this world are over at one end. Their message is “meditation is amazing, come over here and mediate and be mindful with us guys”
There is no doubt that meditation appears to have a lot of benefits. It is not, however, the only things available or necessarily appropriate.
CBT delivered by app
At the other end of the spectrum there are the apps that take Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and deliver it by an app. They are mostly designed for those that have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression or for those that self diagnose with those mental health issues.
Tick a box and here’s a graph
There are quite a few apps out there that on the face of it are simply a daily check in app but which can produce some whizzy graphs and visuals that will keep the HR department and the employer very happy. The interventions they deliver can be limited to articles and occasionally follow the new trend for curation. Curation is really an excuse to gather lots of disparate pieces of information and allow the user to use their discernment in choosing what to use. If I sound cynical it is because sometimes I can be.
There is Another Way
There is another way and Calm People have spent a considerable amount of time and energy developing a model that really helps people sit in a safe space and understand themselves better and then get the tools they need to help themselves.
A 7 area model for emotional health covering …
Your sense of Meaning & Purpose
Your physical self.
Add in a 120 question assessment that delivers a comprehensive personalised report with both education and personalised feedback included in it.
As if that was not enough we have designed and developed 8 different development pathways. 7 match the areas of the model so that any area you wish to build and maintain you can, with our support. The 8th is a special area with mindfulness skills, guided visualisations and strategies to help you think healthily.
We use a combination of videos, worksheets, dedicated members only articles and pertinent book recommendations to keep you healthy, strong and continually developing.
For an individual it costs less than a therapist’s appointment to get a whole year’s membership.
For employers you can enroll your teams and get access to anonymous data that helps you see your businesses health, progress and plan any other intervention you may wish to make.
Comprehensive is an understatement… and if you still want whizzy graphs I am sure we can help with that.
If you are an employer interested in supporting your employees email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Is the future of mental health evolution or revolution?
It is easy to see the “epidemic” of mental health issues that are predicted to be some kind of revolution in our ability to talk about mental health. The reality is that if that tsunami of issues comes down the line it will be crisis led and will not be a sudden revolutionary change in the way we talk.
The reality is that post pandemic many will feel safe enough to collapse and admit they have been suffering. Many more will simply batten down the hatches and bury their issues deeper than before and try never to deal with them ever. We know that is not a realistic strategy and they will leak out in the end but that is what will happen.
For some this will be a wake up call. For many the advent of the tech we are developing will help them to do some much needed work on themselves.
Here at Calm people we will continue to design and deliver great workshops. We will continue to develop the tech we all need to support our busy lives and we will be here for many years to come helping you and your teams get emotionally stronger and healthier.
To us that is evolutionary even if Inner Calm is pretty revolutionary…take a look here