- 10 October 2022
- Posted by: ante
- Category: Mental health
In 2012, the Health Care Act aimed to address the disparity between services for physical and mental health. A decade later, and, despite some good initiatives to raise awareness and provide support, significant gaps remain. The attitudes to and provision for mental well-being are far from equal to those needing assistance with physical conditions. So, how can we put mental health on par with physical health?
There are many contributing factors, including better Government funding of mental health services and improvements to the collection and monitoring of data. In this article, I will focus on two measures that we, as individuals, can do to better balance both health needs.
Why Health is a Top Priority
Our bodies are complex machines. When they work well, anything is possible! However, it just takes one element to be off-kilter for us to be less energised, motivated, productive or mobile. A bout of flu or overriding anxiety can considerably limit our capacity to undertake even the simplest of tasks.
For this reason, health has to be a top priority; without it, our abilities to experience quality of life or contribute to society are hindered.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Day (Monday 10 October 22) is:
Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority.
It addresses the fact that without good mental health, the individual and wider society suffer.
Learning Self Care from an Early Age
We are brought up with an understanding of physical well-being. We learn steps to take to help us stay physically well, like cleaning our teeth or wearing a helmet when cycling. We can identify symptoms such as a sore throat or painful movement that tell us things aren’t right.
We know steps to address physical ill-health, from sticking a plaster on a wound, to talking with a GP or pharmacist about symptoms. If we tell others about our broken arm, heartburn or backache, the response is usually sympathetic. We have no qualms about wearing glasses to improve our vision, or using crutches to help us walk.
In contrast, few of us learn the simple strategies that help us stay mentally well. Techniques such as controlled breathing are not taught from a young age. The value of fresh air, connections with nature and social contact for mental well-being aren’t shared.
With less awareness of mental well-being, we fail to notice symptoms or dismiss them. We’re hesitant about telling others that things aren’t right. If we do speak out about extreme stress, depression or suicidal thoughts, the response is often negative, with people distancing themselves from us. We are also more resistant to treatment, including counselling or medication.
Learning Positive Mental Health Habits
To tackle the unequal status of physical and mental well-being, I believe we need to start by giving younger generations the tools for self-care. For each minute allocated to physical health, including teeth cleaning, washing and exercise, a minute should be spent on developing self-care and coping strategies for mental health. The habits we learn as we grow up are carried with us into adulthood.
If you are keen to learn some positive habits, the Mental Health Foundation offers a free downloadable document* sharing research-based tips.
Mental Health Risk Assessments at Work
Identifying Physical Hazards
Another area in which we can inform change is in the workplace. At present, organisations have to complete a workplace risk assessment. This explores the environment to identify potential hazards that have the potential to cause physical harm. Exposed wires that could be a trip hazard or access to chemicals that could burn the skin are two examples.
With awareness of potential hazards, the organisation puts in place measures to reduce the risk. Harmful chemicals are locked in a cupboard and staff are trained to use machinery correctly or to wear PPE.
Identifying Mental Hazards
I believe we can take this further; risk assessing the work environment in terms of potential risks to mental health. Long shifts, discrimination, unrealistic targets and no access to natural light are a few examples. From here, we can look at introducing policies and processes to mitigate the risks.
The recording of absenteeism for mental health-related issues could also provide insight into patterns, which could lead to causes. Are there certain tasks, roles or managers that are putting employees at greater risk of declining mental wellbeing?
One of Mindset’s services is conducting well-being audits for organisations. This combines available data with an employee survey to understand the current risk and measures in place. Suggestions are then offered for addressing any gaps in provision. The aim is to reduce staff absenteeism and issues with retention by improving workplace well-being.
Improving Well-being on Mental Health Day
This Mental Health Day, I believe we can all take steps to build awareness of the importance of good mental health. We can also take steps to help elevate mental well-being. Our actions can help put it on par with physical well-being.