I’m sure you’ll agree that this third UK lockdown has been the hardest to endure. It’s not difficult to understand why. Even at the best of times, winter can be difficult for people. The joy we felt at the vaccine approvals has been tempered by the realities of how long they’ll take to roll out (even though an amazing rate is being achieved). And ultimately, we’re all really fed up by now of being locked down.
The World Health Organisation defines good mental health as: “… a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” Lockdown and all the other important responses to the pandemic impact on all of these. They curtail our ability to realise our potential, they have introduced new stresses we’ve not experienced before, and—physically speaking—they prevent us from feeling part of a community, due to social distancing.
Mental health is a continuum. Everyone continually moves up and down the continuum to varying degrees from positive mental health to mental distress. Those of us who generally experience good mental health may currently be experiencing more distress than usual, without the awareness of how best to respond. Those of us who were already experiencing mental health concerns may be being pushed further towards more serious mental illness.
As I’ll explain, you have choices regarding how to deal with stress and adversity. But let’s look first at why it’s so important to take your mental wellbeing seriously.
Mental distress is as serious as physical trauma
If you had a physical injury, it’s unlikely you would ignore it. When a physical trauma impedes us or causes us pain and discomfort, we prioritise finding the best way to heal and recover. Mental health traumas don’t always have visible symptoms and, what’s worse, we may not have the awareness and capacity to self-diagnose. Unchecked, low mental wellbeing can deteriorate into mental illness.
It’s important enough in itself to take good mental health wellbeing seriously from the perspective of the individual.
But it’s also very important for businesses to understand the importance of fostering good mental health. When employees experience poor mental wellbeing, this can have an impact on attendance levels, commitment, staff turnover, productivity and customer satisfaction. To run a truly successful business, you need to support the mental wellbeing of your people.
This is particularly important for technology businesses to understand
As things stand, the gender make-up of technology businesses is not representative of wider society: over 80% of tech workers are men. Young men are one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to mental health. In the UK, three times as many men die by suicide than women, and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35. A contributing factor to this is that men make up only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies.
To be clear, it goes without saying that businesses need to support everyone’s mental wellbeing—my point is that due to their unequal gender balance, tech companies will be statistically more likely to include people who are suffering mental health concerns and not proactively seeking support.
So, men are less likely to talk about mental health issues and technology companies are predominantly made up of men. It’s critically important for these businesses to openly and actively cultivate a culture that promotes the importance of good mental wellbeing for everyone.
How you can foster mental health resilience
We’re a people-focused business at Scott Logic and we take mental health wellbeing very seriously. Cultivating good mental wellbeing is a key part of our business strategy. We ensure that all of our line managers have excellent mental health awareness and understand how we can support mental health at work, from: creating a culture in which everyone can thrive; through providing targeted support for those who are struggling; to giving tailored support for those who are ill.
In addition, as part of our wellbeing initiative, I’m rolling out a new awareness programme that I’ve developed to nurture people’s mental health resilience. I’ll summarise here the choices you can make to respond positively to stress and build resilience. And if you’d like to hear more or ask me questions about this, I’m giving an online talk on this topic on 31 March – you can book your place below.
Resilience is the ability to adapt or recover from a range of issues, including trauma, burnout, and conflict. We do not always get to choose the situations we find ourselves in, but typically we get to choose what our response to those situations might be. It’s important to reflect upon what our typical, automatic, immediate responses to stress are and then to use this awareness to determine and shape a better response for the future.
Some people use alcohol, food, or other substances and activities as a distraction when they are stressed, which rarely makes things better and often has the propensity to make things worse by masking or deflecting from the true issue. A better response is to take a step back, identify the cause of the stress and gain perspective about what can be done. There are simple choices you can make that will significantly reduce or even eliminate stress and they can be classified as one of four As:
- Accept: you put a stressful situation into perspective such that it reduces the level of stress by accepting it for what it is. Depersonalising a situation or decoupling it from your personal perspective is a positive step towards acceptance of it
- Avoid: you assess the source or foundation of a stressful situation with a view to making structural changes to your environment or behaviours to switch the focus to something more positive
- Alter: you make changes to your environment or the environmental factors that elicit the stress, such that it reduces or eliminates it
- Adapt: you change the way you consider or approach the source of the stress, to minimise its effect
Which choice is right will depend on how easy it is to remove or change the cause of the stress. And it also relies on us acknowledging our need to connect with each other and support one another. There are times we need to be supportive of those around us, and it’s important to recognise that there are also times we need to be supported. Being prepared to ask others for help is one of the best ways we can improve our resilience and ability to cope.
It’s important to note that resilience isn’t just about reactively protecting ourselves in this way, but also about improving our self-awareness and our ability to learn from the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis. We can only truly grow and cope with the complexities of life by building resilience.
Want to hear more?
As mentioned, I’ll be expanding on this topic in an online talk on 31 March. Please come along to that if you can:
If you’re not able to, we’ll be sharing the recording on our YouTube channel.