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A Simple Strategy for Mental Health

Posted on July 5, 2018

Whilst a small percentage of mental health issues in the areas of psychosis, schizophrenia and other serious (often organic) illnesses do not fit the model; the majority do – being centred around depression, anxiety or both.  There’s a cyclical link, of course; as we can, for example, be anxious that something will go wrong and quite reasonably become rather depressed about that prospect.

It has been suggested, that the solution to this is fewer thoughts about the past or future, and more ‘in-the-present’ thinking.

You’ll recognise a reference to the increasingly popular concept of ‘mindfulness’, but this simplicity is also why cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is so useful. Through a logical deconstruction of our emotions, CBT points us at thoughts like ‘every minute spent wishing things that have already happened hadn’t happened is a minute wasted’ or ‘every minute spent worrying that something will happen steals a minute from efforts to ensure that it doesn’t’. Applying such self-evident logic isn’t always easy and is sometimes impossible, but it’s a very good place to start.


We all spend time thinking unproductive thoughts – the important point is the degree to which they manifest. Spotting people on the cusp of a ‘struggling to cope’ tipping point is key.

Try asking ‘are you alright?’ and spend half a second considering the answer you receive. You’ll often accept ‘yes fine’ on the nod; but if you spend five seconds considering the response, as often as not, you’ll realise the sincerest answer would be ‘not really’.

This is especially important for men who tend to respond to requests after their health with ‘I’m fine’; ‘it’s nothing’ (merely a flesh-wound to quote the famous Python scene) and eventually ‘I’m so sorry to trouble you but I may need some help here’ as they stand in front of a doctor carrying one of their arms under the remaining one.

In his recent best-selling book, ‘Rules for Life’, writer Jordan Peterson suggests that over millions of years; men, in particular, have learned that the one thing they mustn’t be perceived as in a group is a ‘passenger’.  It’s time to discard these hunter/warrior instincts and help men as best we can; by making it okay to talk about emotions and seek help when things aren’t going well.

Increasingly, organisations are training teams of mental health first aiders to start conversations; with the aim of building a pro-active, supportive culture, focused on being able to spot those at risk and refer them for help – and bloody right too!! Statistics show that mental health first aid is needed around 35 times more often than the traditional health and safety variety; with working people completing suicide at that ratio, compared with accidental deaths.

Some cynics suggest that the label ‘mental health issue’ is just a con, perpetrated by big pharma and the psychiatry industry (and there is a lot of truth in that); but we know all about the Heinrich principle (which talks about the root causes of accidents), and just look at the supposedly pointy end of that triangle!! Whatever label we use, the base of the triangle must be absolutely enormous. And that encompasses everything from ‘you, but on a bad day’, through to hanging on by your fingertips.


Mental health first aid is the first strand of the simple two-pronged strategy. The second is to have a holistic, integrated approach to resilience building. With individuals, this means positive thinking and resilience skills but also reflecting the approach: the question is not ‘is this person fit for work?’ – it’s, ‘is the work fit for our people?’ – but that’s a separate article.


More and more books are being published, warning that social media is driving emotional isolation and that we are facing the ‘end of days’. Overstated or not; in the last few years, we have reached a tipping point, with the next generation heading out for work struggling more than any other ever has. The number of students and school children completing suicide has now outnumbered the amount of people killed at work. Even with a basic business focus, it’s a huge risk management issue, which is heading straight for UK plc.

In short, mental health has been largely ignored as the elephant in the room for years; but the time has come to take action to combat the root causes issues and promote the conversation as much as possible so that those suffering know they’re not alone and that help is available. Bear in mind that statistics show approximately 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem each year.

With mental health services in the UK barely fit for purpose and likely to be under even more financial pressure if Brexit goes badly, it’s a major sustainability issue for the industry. Therefore, it has to be a key item on the risk register for all organisations with all the governance issues that flow from that.

Prof Andrew Hopkins led the ‘mindful safety’ approach, which stressed that while all organisations have things going wrong on a daily basis; weak organisations wait for the problems to find them – whereas, the best organisations go out pro-actively to find the problems. In exactly the same way, a mindful approach to mental health needs to be driven not just by the SHE and Occupational Health departments but in-line with an integrated and holistic strategy.

It’s not just about the small percentage who pick up the phone to Occupational Health or EA. The bigger question is: what are we doing about the 15-25% who are struggling? And what are we doing, pro-actively, to keep the remaining 75-85% of employees well?

As you may be aware, the team at Courtley are great advocates of bringing more awareness of mental health issues to the forefront of our industry. If you feel that you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues; or you simply want more information on the subject, don’t hesitate to contact us. The charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) also has some fantastic tools and information available on their website.

Source: SHP Online


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