Mental health. These two words have barged their way firmly into our collective psyche in the last 18 months as together we experienced the greatest global disruption and upheaval in living memory. And as we are seeing in our own work, organisations are taking mental well-being more seriously than ever.
No-one has escaped recent events unscathed, and it may be years before the full scale of their impact is clear – socially, economically and psychically. We might all be fed up with the words Covid and pandemic, but they’re part of our lexicon now. There’s no going back.
So, what have we learned about mental health, and what can we do collectively and individually to look after it as we begin to get our lives and work back on track?
One thing is for sure. Where previously, mental health was largely a private matter, though happily without the awful stigma that dogged it for years, today it can’t be ignored. There’s been a seismic shift in working practices. Our lives have been turned on their heads, and the many and complex impacts on our mental health have become apparent, or soon will. And organisations are facing up to the challenge of addressing it, and in some interesting ways.
Talking to our speakers on mental health, we’re seeing two strong trends emerging.
Making a difference – and soon
This is the ‘fire-fighting’ side of things – addressing the immediate impact of Covid-19 over the last 18 months and for at least a few months more. We’re talking here about talks and programmes that offer support around things like anxiety, stress, work-life balance and self-care.
Our speakers are at the coalface in this regard, and the topics they’re being asked to talk about reflect perfectly what is happening around us. For Petra Velzeboer, she’s seeing demand for topics like Wellbeing in times of change; or Managing Remote Teams. For Professor Luke O’Neill, it’s about giving practical advice and information on Covid and vaccinations so people can feel more confident returning to the office after months at home. And for Brent Pope, it might be about how to recognise and address anxiety.
Interestingly, leadership support is also a strong trend. Leaders are under growing pressure, not least from themselves, to get to grips with fragmented teams, lower morale, stress and uncertainty. And companies are stepping up and offering tools and training so they are better able to do so, and without risking burnout themselves. As a result, we’re seeing a rise in interest in masterclasses, which offer richer learning opportunities.
Looking to the Future
The second trend is much more about the big picture.
With uncertainty now increasingly looking like the world’s default setting (Margaret Heffernan‘s book, Uncharted, could not have been more prescient), there’s a growing recognition that we need to equip ourselves with tools and knowledge that help us become more adaptive, resourceful, flexible and resilient.
Importantly, this isn’t about simply ‘bouncing back’, unaffected, from every setback. It goes much deeper. It’s about recognising that with each challenge we face and put behind us, we change somehow, even if only in tiny ways, and we integrate those changes into our lives. Speakers like Rob Heffernan, Peter Ryan, Brent Pope and Petra Velzeboer are using their own personal stories as powerful inspiration to show others that positives can come from seemingly enormous setbacks. And that over time, sometimes even a short few months, we become forged, like steel: stronger, more adaptable, wiser.
And just as it’s always done, the world of business is looking for the best learnings to support all of this and to codify them in ways that help people. As our understanding of the science of the brain develops, for example, we are starting to see learnings from psychology and neuroscience emerge in more mainstream conversations around mental health.
Mental Fitness coach Neil O’Brien has been talking for years about how cumulative changes in habits can ultimately make us more adaptive, resilient and content. His results speak for themselves. We now know, too, that we can ‘tune’ what Professor Ian Robertson calls our ‘mind-brain’ so we can begin to change behaviours that no longer serve us and develop not just healthier behaviours, but healthier ways of thinking, feeling and being. And as we do this, the neural pathways in our brains which supported negative behaviours just wither. How about that for a bit of biological wizardry!
In short, there is huge activity and change happening around how we all think about and address mental health in both the near and long term. It’s exciting stuff – hopeful too.
And right now, we’ll take very bit of hopeful we can get.
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