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This Sunday 10th October 2021 is World Mental Health Day, an initiative recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of attending to the mental health and wellbeing of yourself and others.

The theme for this year set by the World Federation for Mental Health is “Mental Health in an Unequal World”. The purpose of this is to recognise the ways poor mental health affects us unevenly in a world where people continue to be unfairly disadvantaged on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and class.

In a blog article we posted earlier this year, we drew attention to the ways LGBTQ+ people suffer disproportionately from poor mental health owing to the stigmas and discriminations they face daily. This is just one example of how mental health manifests in an unequal world.

As leaders in employee health and wellbeing, we wish to play our part in empowering people to support the mental health of themselves and others. So, we have gathered some top advice from our experienced corporate mental health instructors to help you on your mental health journey.

What is mental health?

The concept of mental health has been defined in various ways, with some organisations defining it as the absence of illness or poor health, and others emphasising a positive state of wellbeing.

One of the first things anyone who has embarked on a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course will learn is that mental health is best thought of as a continuum, one that ranges from good to bad mental health, and from not having a mental health diagnosis to having a severe mental illness.

Where any individual sits on the continuum is a constantly changing process. Someone who has had good mental health for most of their life may start to develop poor mental health for any number of reasons, and vice versa. As an example, someone who has started a particularly stressful new job may easily succumb to poor mental health in the absence of appropriate support and knowledge to help them with managing stress, anxiety and work/life balance.

During the pandemic, many people felt their mental health negatively impacted, with studies such as the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health in the Pandemic study providing regular updates on how the pandemic is continuing to affect people’s lives.

That said, although our mental health is constantly changing, there are numerous things we can do to help support ourselves and others.

Your mental health journey

This World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the mental health and wellbeing of yourself and others. As an exercise, reflect on the following questions by yourself or alternatively with a friend or colleague. These questions will encourage you to become more present and attuned to the state of your mental health.

  1. How would you describe your mental health at the moment?

Spend some time reflecting on how you are feeling at the present moment. Are you feeling positive or negative? Are you overcome by stress, or are you feeling confident to tackle the day?

You should also reflect on the state of your physical health, given that the two are strongly interconnected. Do you have any physical health problems that are affecting your mental health?

  1. Is your stress bucket in check?

Stress is one of the most common mental health problems affecting workers across the UK. A 2020 UK workplace stress survey found that a staggering 79% of working adults in the UK commonly experience stress relating to their work.

The “stress bucket” is a helpful way to think about how stress impacts our lives. Most of us carry a certain mount of stress with us wherever we go, but stress affects us all differently. Some people can handle greater amounts of stress than others. Regardless, when stress accumulates, it can cause your stress bucket to overflow.

It is important to nurture healthy coping mechanisms that can provide an outlet for unwanted stress. These coping mechanisms can be visualised as punctures at the bottom of your stress bucket that prevent the bucket from overflowing.

Reflect on what coping mechanisms you use to deal with stress. Perhaps you enjoy reading, exercising or listening to music. It is important to differentiate between healthy coping mechanisms and those that can potentially cause harm, for example drinking and smoking.

  1. Are you looking after your general health?

There are many different general health factors that contribute to the state of your mental health and wellbeing. These may include sleep, diet, exercise and social activity.

A 2020 study found that during the course of the pandemic, around 25% of adults reported having experienced feelings of loneliness in the past 2 weeks. Isolation and the absence of social activity can negatively impact the mental health of yourself and others.

Reflect on how you have slept over the last few nights. Are you getting enough sleep or do you constantly feel tired and lethargic?

Are you maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet? See our recent article written by health and immunity specialist Dr Colin Hamilton-Davies for more tips on healthy eating and supplement usage.

Are you taking regular exercise? The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. This should be spread evenly over 3-4 days per week, or alternatively every day.

  1. What is your internal monologue like?

Your internal monologue is the voice inside your head that controls your thoughts and general thinking habits. Having positive thoughts can inspire confidence and help you succeed in your everyday life. Negative thoughts, on the other hand, may contribute to stress and anxiety.

What are you thinking about at the moment?

How are your thoughts making you feel?

Try tracking your thoughts at regular intervals throughout the day and create a mind map to better understand your thinking habits.

Supporting yourself and colleagues

Reflecting on the above questions can assist you with becoming more present and attuned to the state of your mental health and the mental health of your colleagues.

Many of us lead busy work lives in which we rarely have the time to reflect on how we think and feel, and yet good mental health is key to success in both our personal and work endeavours!

When we feel positive about ourselves and those around us, we tend to be more motivated and productive in what we set out to achieve. We are also able to connect better with others and maintain stronger work relationships. Promoting good mental health is essential for any workplace environment.

So, this World Mental Health Day, let’s spread the word and place mental health at the top of our agendas.

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