Reframing Mental Health

Social + Emotional + Physical

This stage of our programme seeks to reframe the term ‘mental health’. Whilst often used synonymously, mental health and mental illness are very different things. Mental health is something we should aspire to. Mental health describes a situation in which we are functioning well, and good mental health is a situation where we are functioning optimally. Mental illness describes not only the absence of mental health, but a situation in which one or more aspects of mental function is making it difficult, if not impossible, to cope with the daily challenges of life. For example, depression isn't always a mental illness because an individual can be depressed but still cope very well with life. Anxiety isn't always a mental illness because again, you can be anxious. In fact, sometimes anxiety brings out the best in people.

But misconceptions as to the nature of mental health – and specifically the too strong association with mental illness - are implicated in a range of problems that are often exacerbated in the organisational environment:

  • They make it hard for individuals to be helped when they first experience problems, and at a point in time when such help could be informal and social in nature as opposed to formal and clinical. 
  • They encourage non-disclosure and often allow symptoms to progress. 
  • They perpetuate the stigma that has long been associated with mental illness. 
  • They make it hard for organisations to enact policies and systems to enhance mental health. 
  • They lead to failure to identify serious risk to individuals and teams, 
  • They make it hard for organisations to enact its ethical and professional duties of care. 

Critical to our understanding of mental health and mental illness is that they are not simply a function of the brain. The mind, far from being solely a function of the brain, is in a very real neurobiological respect, the function of the whole body. Physical illness can cause quite significant impairment to our mental health (depression and chronic anxiety are for example common comorbidities with many medical conditions), in the same way that mental illness can cause quite significant impairment to our physical health.

And not all phenomena we associate with negative aspects of mental health are negative. Feeling stressed when there is something in your environment that is stressful indicates good mental health in the same sense that an immune response that causes inflammation and fever indicates good physical health. Feeling stress when there's nothing particularly stressful out there is not good. Burnout, however, which is extraordinarily common in the corporate organisational context, but which is all too often seen as part and parcel of corporate life and ignored, is often either a borderline or clinical mental illness, simply because when people are burnt out, they often cannot cope.

Participant Outcomes

  • Understand that mental health is an aspirational concept - being at you best requires good mental health - it is the foundation for high performance organisations
  • High achievement comes with a mental health warning
  • Recognise that like physical health, mental health fluctuates in response to environmental challenges
  • Confidence in the use of language associated with mental health (mood, emotion etc)
  • Understand that empathy and altruism are at the core of individual and group meaning & purpose; key to good organisational mental health
  • Adopt mood as a key indicator and predictor of mental health/performance within the business

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SCIENTIST OF YOURSELF