Talking about mental health as something we all have, and approaching it with the same attitude, curiosity and openness as we do with physical health, helps give it equal weighting.
On Tuesday 9th October Unmind hosted a special breakfast panel at the Mad World Forum in London. Our brilliant panellists Lt Gen Richard Nugee (Ministry of Defence), Yulia O’Mahoney (John Lewis & Partners) and Jo Bean (Thomsons Online Benefits) joined us for a powerful discussion of the ‘new dawn’ for proactive and preventative mental wellbeing in the workplace.
Following this, our CEO and co-founder, Dr Nick Taylor, wanted to share his thoughts about why proactive approaches to mental wellbeing are so important.
My name is Dr Nick Taylor and I am the CEO and co-founder of Unmind. I’ve spent my adult life working in mental health - initially as a volunteer Samaritan, then a Support Worker for Mind, eventually ending up as a Lead Clinical Psychologist in a busy NHS team.
At Unmind we believe everyone has the right to a healthy mind, and we developed a Workplace Mental Health Platform to make sure we deliver on that belief. Unmind is fully digital, clinically backed, beautiful to use and affordable.
We are young, just over 18 months old, but in a short space of time we have already partnered with forward-thinking organisations such as John Lewis & Partners, Yorkshire Building Society, and Made.com to name a few. I’m excited to say that Unmind is now available to over 100,000 people globally.
Dark times for mental health?
Bob Dylan once sang “They say the darkest hour, is right before the dawn”. It sometimes feels like we are in the “darkest hour” with mental health. Not a day goes by without a news story emphasising the prevalence of mental ill-health; from the negative impact on individuals and society, to stigma and a lack of resources for treatment and support
World Mental Health Day 2018 attracted more attention than ever before, which is wonderful. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the vast majority of articles, comments and stories were focused on mental ill-health - much like last year.
Given the scale of the problems caused by mental ill-health, this is understandable. I have worked with many people experiencing an array of mental health problems and witnessed the impact mental illnesses can have. I have personally managed NHS waiting lists for access to mental health services. Through my experience I can testify that treatment for mental health problems often takes too long, leaving many struggling without the support to help them on the road to recovery and thriving.
Timely care and support is crucial in all areas of health - imagine waiting 6 months to treat a broken leg - and yet too often mental health care is met with severe delays. I understand the essential importance of focusing on these problems.
But… what about the rest of mental health?
It’s important to remember that we were celebrating ‘World Mental Health Day’ not ‘World Mental ill-Health Day’. It is just as important to celebrate the positive side to mental health as it is to focus on problems.
Why? Because prevention is preferable to cure and we need people to understand that mental health is something we have from the moment we are born to the moment we die, not just when we are experiencing mental health problems. Our mental health is unique to our species and incredibly complex - decades of research have been devoted to understanding and explaining it. As with all complex things we must give our mental health ongoing care and attention, just like we do with our dental and physical health.
A new dawn
This more proactive approach is starting to take root, and progress is being made. To go back to music, another lyric springs to mind, this time by Nina Simone – “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life….. and I’m feeling good”.
In the years I have been working in mental health, I have never felt more optimistic about the state of mental health. One reason for this is the lifting of stigma, allowing for more open and honest conversations. Another is the proactive approach to mental health becoming increasingly understood and applied.
The mindfulness movement has been important in advancing people’s understanding of the proactive steps to look after their minds, but it is the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more we can be doing, taken from the fields of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Neuroscience and Positive Psychology. Focussing on mindfulness alone is the metaphorical equivalent to just using the treadmill in a state-of-the-art gym.
Positioning is important
To get people to engage in proactive mental health we need to make the subject more aspirational, making the connection to becoming our best selves. Toothpaste is sold with images of gleaming white teeth, running shoes with athletic bodies, and yet few of us can claim to have either. Nonetheless, these approaches have helped create widespread adoption of proactive attitudes to dental and physical health.
It’s time for mental health to learn from these models. It is time to position mental health in a more aspirational way. This is not a cynical marketing ploy but a desire to position mental health for what it really is; one of the most profound and wonderful things about being a human being. Yesterday The Lancet published a Commission on Mental Health. They concluded the report with:
"Every person has a right to mental health, and good mental health can facilitate sustainable development, improve general health, and lead to a fairer world."
How brilliantly put! At Unmind we are driven by the core belief that ‘everyone has the right to a healthy mind’. By proactively approaching our mental health and focusing on our mental wellbeing we give ourselves the best chance to thrive, prevent problems and receive timely, appropriate care. Let’s position proactive mental health differently, with a smile and an opportunity to thrive.
This approach will help beat the stigma and will foster widespread adoption so that in the near future we see a world where looking after our mental health on a daily basis is as common as brushing our teeth.