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How to encourage good mental health and wellbeing at work

04 Jan 2018

Close up shot of runner's shoes

Dr Jonathan Osborn is a Council Member at the College of Medicine and a GP at Giffords Surgery in Wiltshire. He explains why good mental health and wellbeing can have such a positive impact upon our working lives…

I find the term ‘mental health’ to be challenging. It has a stigma attached to it and when people talk about it, they start thinking about serious mental health rather than looking after themselves and their wellbeing.

Things like depression and anxiety can be seen by a lot of people as a weakness, a personality defect, a problem with themselves. So, there is a real resistance to admit they’ve got emotions, that they are human, particularly among high fliers.

There is what is known as The Imposter Syndrome – people finding themselves in a senior position and thinking ‘am I right the person for this job?’, ‘why have they appointed me?’ which can lead to stress and anxiety.

Effective Leadership

We know stress up to a certain point is good for productivity. It can encourage creativity and innovation but once you look beyond that point it can lead to mistakes.

I don’t think you can be an effective leader or director without recognising your strengths and weaknesses.

Coming from where I am and treating serious mental illness it’s about admitting that feeling anxious is entirely normal. In fact, if you address those issues at an earlier stage it can have a more positive outcome because you are much more likely to seek help from others to fill the gaps in your skills set for the wider benefit of the team.

Another reason why I think this is so important, is that thinking about yourself, being aware your feelings and emotions early on and doing something about it - I don’t mean taking anti-depressants for mild depression because we know they don’t work for mild depression – through doing little things like exercise, reducing alcohol intake, talking to people, and having hobbies, will not only improve your mental health but also your performance.

If you feel like you’re not coping, you’re on edge which can lead to stress and anxiety. If you deal with that early on, the outcomes can be some much better.

Healthy Doctors, Healthy Patients

I quote Sir Richard Branson who said, ‘train your staff well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so that they don’t.’ That encapsulates what we’re trying to do, to develop supportive practices so that people feel that they are doing a job.

One of the core values in a partnership I previously worked for was ‘healthy doctors, healthy patients.’ In other words, you’re not able to look after others, if you’re not happy, healthy and supported.

I was part of a commissioning group at NHS Bath and North-East Somerset and one of the things the board came up with was to offer staff the opportunity to sign up for something known as the Global Challenge.

This was a 100-day programme where you were given a pedometer and you were formed into teams of seven people. This programme analysed all sorts of things in your life including sleeping patterns and diet.

It changed the way the organisation felt. There was a buzz about the place. It wasn’t cheap, but we did it for two years in a row and people were doing more walking meetings, getting fit, going to runs. But there were also so many more positive interactions. It’s such a busy and stressful job anything we could do to improve communication, talking, smiling. We also found that we were more creative through people having more conversations with each other.

So, we found it to be beneficial. I really enjoyed it. A lot a bit of weight, I slept better and there were more interactions and conversations between colleagues. From those conversations we found people were putting more ideas forward and we were more creative.

Social Prescribing

And that feeds into what we’re trying to do with our population. We’re very much into something called ‘social prescribing’. The third sector/voluntary sector helps patients with non-medical solutions to loneliness, depression, anxiety, essentially social groups and I see this as something businesses can get involved in through Corporate Social Responsibility that, in turn, can also help to boost their profile in their community.

Within the Bath and North Somerset there is the Wellbeing College that is doing all sort of initiatives to link up patients, the NHS and the third sector.

That can range from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy through to something as simple as things the Active 10 app which encourages you to do 10 minutes of brisk walking every day. I know it’s a very simple thing to do but acts as quite an interesting stimulus to get this notification popping up on your phone saying you haven’t done your 10 minutes.

Because we, as doctors, know of the benefits, perhaps it’s easier for us to ask people if they are looking after themselves. We know that if you’re a little bit more active not only does it benefit every organ in your body but also you will sleep better. It can improve your emotional wellbeing, you can get more Vitamin D if you so that walking outside. But it might also allow you time to reflect, to innovate possibly, and to gain greater self-awareness.

It comes down to leadership, to stand up and say you need to look after yourselves individually and as a team and that’s what we found with the global challenge. It got people to think about their wellbeing and doing it for 100 days meant that it became a habit.

Ultimately, it comes down to being aware that we’re all human with emotions and weaknesses and being open enough to talk about it.

Dr Jonathan Osborn is a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and a Chartered Director

Mental health in the workplace

The IoD is committed to raising awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, with a particular focus on opening up the conversation for small and medium-sized businesses. We have created a hub packed full of helpful advice, best practice and useful resources, as well as shared experiences from business leaders.

Visit our mental health in the workplace hub

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