Mental health is not the problem

With the rise of mental health conditions and the growing awareness of mental health in the workplace, are employers any closer to really getting under the skin of what mental health actually means for their employees?

The terms anxiety, stress, and depression are now common language but do HR professionals, managers and even wellbeing managers really understand what these labels mean for their employees and more importantly, the right solution in addressing them?

For example, let’s take the word anxiety.

When you think of the word anxiety do you think of it as something someone has to learn to cope with?
Do you associate anxiety as heart palpitations?
Do you think of anxiety as the person in your team who you can’t ask to do presentations?
Or perhaps your relationship with anxiety is the 17% of the workplace who have experienced time off with anxiety this year?

Regardless of your association with the condition, it may surprise you to know that anxiety is not actually the problem.

The problem lays in what is triggering the anxiety in the first place – the root cause.

The anxiety is only a bi product.

Despite the fact that mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression are now worldwide epidemics, we are still not addressing the root cause of these conditions and are still treating physical conditions in isolation.

Let’s take the all too common scenario of Mary to highlight this example…

Mary works in Publishing and has been in her job for 5 years. Over the last 6 months her workload has slowly been increasing as a result of cuts being made to the companies’ headcount.  Mary has been feeling the pressure of her increased workload along with an underlying fear of losing her job.

Mary is single, lives alone and doesn’t have anyone to support her financially.

Fear about losing her job has started to play on her mind and is now compromising Marys’ sleep.  She is finding it increasingly difficult to switch off when she gets home.  To help her relax, Mary has started to turn more frequently to drinking a few glasses of wine each night because she feels it ‘takes the edge off’.

Marys energy levels have now started to dip considerably due to her broken sleep and the reduced quality of sleep owing to her body processing the additional toxins as a result of her increased drinking.

Mary is now waking feeling more tired and is drinking more coffee to ‘keep her going’.  Her dip in energy levels also means she has started to become less disciplined with her food choices and has been picking up convenience food for dinner on her way home from work and snacking on less healthy foods during the day.

At work she finds her ability to focus becoming a struggle and her motivation and productivity levels taking a significant drop.

As the weeks slip past Mary notices her stomach developing cramps and feeling bloated.  Mary goes to her G.P. who tells her she has IBS and gives her medication.

Mary tries to change her diet, but due to feeling fatigued, she finds herself going for what is quick and easy and hopes the medication will help her IBS.  A combination of the IBS and her energy levels have also meant she is finding more and more reasons to stop exercising.

After a period of time, Mary is now feeling more emotional and overwhelmed and finding herself becoming tearful over small things.  Normally a chirpy and confident person, Mary feels disconnected and is becoming more insular and unable to cope.

Mary goes back to her G.P. and is now told she has depression.  She leaves with a prescription for anti-depressants.

Mary starts taking the anti-depressants along with her IBS medications. After a month Mary sees no difference in her state of mind or how she is feeling, and her health continues to deteriorate. Mary is now signed off work.

Sadly, this is a very common situation.

Mary has received medication for the IBS and for what is being diagnosed as depression, yet the root issue still has not been address – the fear of losing her job.

What could have made a difference in this scenario?

As the saying goes, knowledge is power.  Had Mary had the knowledge to identify what was going on in her mind and body and why, could this have been prevented – Yes.

Had Mary had access to powerful resources and techniques to help process the root cause of her emotional fears and support her sleep would she have remained at work in good shape – Yes.

Having worked with thousands of people 1 – 1 we see stories like this all the time and recognise that if we are to make a difference in turning around the picture concerning mental health, we need to take a different approach.

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