Earlier this year, a Chief Executive asked me to exclude the term ‘mental health’ from the title of a wellbeing presentation I was delivering to his employees because he felt it was very negative and it made him feel uneasy. He was concerned that others in his company may feel the same. So, we changed it to a more ‘positive’ title that resonated more with his personal values and company culture, “How to stay mentally well during Lockdown”.

I suddenly realised that despite the improvement in mental health awareness across UK workplaces, perceptions about mental health are still negatively biased.

It doesn’t take much searching online to realise that the term ‘mental health’ tends to be linked to ‘problems’ or ‘illness’ and is very rarely used in reference to sustaining health or wellness.

If you search the term ‘mental health’ on LinkedIn you will find over 2 millions posts at any given time. On the plus side, it’s great that psychological health is still a hot topic for businesspeople everywhere.  However, ‘mental health’ is a term that is often used in the employment world to imply mental ill health, complex employee management issues, long-term sickness absence and potential employer liability risk.

Mental health is an expression that sends shivers down many business leaders and managers backs -and causes them to react due to the worry it causes them.  As a result, mental health now also means ‘big money’. It’s become the Achille’s heal of every organisation.

What exactly is mental health?

The real meaning of the term relates to a state of health which can range from wellness to illness.  Like physical health, mental health is dynamic and can vary on any given day and is different for every individual. Sustaining wellbeing requires a constant rebalancing of thoughts, emotions and behaviour. This is what I call “self-management”.

The  World Health Organisation describes mental wellbeing as “a state of balance, both within and with the environment. Physical, psychological, social, cultural, spiritual and other interrelated factors participate in producing this balance.”

This is a state of wellness which every human being aspires to have.  And, in the right environment and with the right support anyone can attain this level of wellbeing.

Painting a more realistic picture

The language we use to describe psychological health is important. We should have the knowledge and confidence to use terms that appropriately describe the spectrum of mental health and wellbeing.

It’s time we look at the big picture and take a more holistic approach. And it’s up to us to use language that evokes health, hope and empowerment.

Let’s keep in mind that mental health (in it’s true sense -both wellness and illness) is a main determinant of organisational success.  According to this article by Harvard University, “successful companies value healthy workers”.  A healthy and contented workforce are more resilient, inclusive, collaborative and productive.

The road ahead

Progressive workplaces recognise the value of a psychologically safe work environment, they provide employees with psychoeducation and emotional support when desired, they offer flexibility and make reasonable adjustments before a diagnosis of disability occurs.  They aren’t afraid of the term ‘mental health’ because they understand it is an integral part of employee health.

Leading organisations talk less about illness and more about wellness; they focus more on prevention and less on cure. They understand that their success depends on the effective management of the full spectrum of employee health.

Employers need to understand the needs and desires of their employees and create an integrated health & wellbeing programme which incorporates services that foster all aspects of employee health: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial and social.