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Mental Wellness the most overlooked aspect of health

Why we need to equip ourselves with effective methods to handle every-day challenges

Dr. Helena Lass photo by Krõõt Tarkmeel

Our society and nature of the work we do has forever changed. Most of today’s office work is not in the slightest bit physical; about 90% of the time we use our heads as our main ‘work asset’. Although we rely predominantly on our inner mental functions to get our work done, the current workplace approach to mental health has been mostly a reactive based approach, only becoming highlighted when serious problems emerge.

What we need instead is similar to financial education – how to be successful and avoid problems in the first place as the importance of personal, social and work related strategies for mental wellness have been massively overlooked for years.

Nature of the problem at workplaces

Employees often look to employers to present a mental health solution, but it is often the case that companies are themselves ill equipped to provide one. The Global Wellness Institute 2016, ‘The Future of Wellness at Work’ report stated that when people are unwell at work, they report a decreased ability to get their tasks done (62 percent), are not engaged (63 percent) and are unmotivated (62 percent). 

According to a 2017 Gallup report ‘State of the Global Workplace’, 67 percent of employees are not engaged and 18 percent are actively disengaged at work. Doing some simple maths illustrates the potential difference in revenue – what would happen to a business’s performance if even 50 percent of employees were actively engaged and motivated as opposed to current global average of 15 percent?

Both these statistics clearly illustrate that problems actually originate elsewhere. For example, most burnout originates from positive stress, not from negative stress. When things are tough, nervousness may lead to anxiety and untreated stress can cause burnout that can lead to depression. I.S. Schonfeld and R. Bianchi in their scientific paper ‘Burnout and Depression: two entities or one?,’ published by the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2016, found that there is 86 percent overlap between burnout and depression.

Therefore it is a mistake to assume that what employees need is more motivation training or positivity. People are already overwhelmed with stress and struggle in handling their inner mental reactions. Boredom and indifference are not physical issues, and can cause organizations and economies huge financial loss. 

Evans-Lacko, S. & Knapp, M.’s scientific paper from 2016 entitled, ‘Global patterns of workplace productivity for people with depression: absenteeism and presenteeism costs across eight diverse countries’, saw data collected from almost 8,000 employees spanning eight countries. The results of the survey revealed that worldwide workplace depression collectively costs almost US$250 billion. 

For the U.S. this translates to US$84.7 billion (or 0.5% of U.S. GDP) in losses due to non-existent productivity when at work (presenteeism) and US$6 billion lost through people not showing to work (absenteeism) because of illness. The study also saw 3.7 percent of the collective American workforce have more than 21 consecutive days off from work because of depression. 

Making the distinction between mental wellness and mental illness 

Too often the words ‘mental health’ are confused with ‘mental illness’, however the two couldn’t be further from each other. Mental health is something that every person has when his or her inner functions operate in their most optimal manner and is a level of psychological well-being. Good mental health is mental wellness.

Mental illness on the other hand, is a lack of health and a result of not dealing with problematic ways of internal functioning when problems first emerge. By letting problems escalate until they become chronic is due to a lack of specific education in intrapersonal skills (‘intra’ meaning inside). Illness is a direct result of neglecting the need for proactive education, instead favoring a bias towards prioritizing fire-fighting the consequences.

Need for new proactive approach to mental health

As there is no single gene known to cause psychiatric illnesses there are no simple medical solutions. The majority of methods in psychology have been developed as forms of intervention for a therapy setting and not as a proactive education. That needs to change if we want to turn the tide and secure that people who are already well also stay well. Staying well does not just happen, it demands access to practical intrapersonal education.

Routledge recently published my scientific paper “Developing Intra-Personal Skills as a Proactive Way to Personal Sustainability – The Preventative Side of the Mental Health Equation”. In it I bring forward a new proactive approach to mental health as something that everyone should actively strive towards. It is one of the first scientific papers to summarize the whole mental wellness topic and opens up a new pathway that is wellness orientated and suitable for all. However, the path towards changing the paradigm is a hard one. People would rather continue to talk about illnesses, than focus on a preventative and proactive solution. That is why I see that workplaces need to lead the way; employers have a lot to gain from improved productivity that always comes along with excellent mental wellness.

What is mental wellness?

Mental wellness is the discipline that helps to keep our inner mental capabilities in good shape. When people are equipped with effective methods to handle every-day challenges, pressures will not escalate stress and then from there to seeds of illness. Mental wellness enables us to effectively nip the problem in the bud.

Good mental health equals wellness, optimum inner functioning and effective use of our innate potentials: purposeful attention, embracing change and unknown, initiative, creativity, inner motivation, having insights, awareness of emotions, good time-management and more. These are all specific inner capabilities that can be developed into useful practical intrapersonal skills that people can use in their daily lives and in their work. 

Both businesses and employees would greatly benefit from learning intrapersonal skills that enable them to sustain performance at the highest level. Mental wellness and intrapersonal education are therefore enablers in reducing health related costs and should be seen as a crucial investment for all companies wanting to stay competitive. During the last three years I have dedicated myself to developing such a digital learning environment which is now available across the globe. 

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