As we prepared for Mental Health Awareness week this year (now only two weeks away, 13-19 May 2019), it struck me that having a framework for thinking about the various initiatives on offer would be a good thing. And what better framework than the wise counsel (and one of my favourite quotes) from Medical Scientist, Denis Parsons Burkitt… we need better fences at the top of the cliff, rather than just more ambulances at the bottom!
Now that’s not to say we don’t need any ambulances at the bottom! It’s clear that when it comes to mental health, many people are already feeling like they’ve started to fall. So, initiatives like Mental Health First Aid and making evidence-based mental health promotion tools like mindfulness and exercise available to all staff are a great start. However, the question we all need to be asking ourselves is “do we have the right mix of fences and ambulances in place in our business?”
Over the past 18 years, The Mental Health Foundation has done a fantastic job of raising awareness about various triggers of mental ill-health. In light of the proposed framework, the question then becomes do we have effective fences in place to help people counter the life challenges of stress, relationship breakdown, loneliness, altruism, lack of sleep, alcohol, etc. And to demonstrate the level of urgency, their 2016 report issued the stark warning that the absence of quality relationships is killing us faster than obesity & lack of exercise.
With family breakdown rates across many nations at record levels and the research coming out in recent years showing the clear links between family breakdown and increased mental health issues in our teenage population, the need for relationship fences has never been greater.
Our experience over the past 20+ years of working in relationship space has shown that Proactive Relationship Education is indeed the required strong fence. Equipping people with the skills and habits they need to get over the inevitable hurdles that all relationships face, improves emotional health and well-being, and allows them to turn up as their ‘best selves’. Performance and productivity improvements in the workplace. Everyone wins.
It’s time to stock up on Green Ribbon pin badges and prepare for mental health awareness-building initiatives for next month. Of course, put plans in place to run events that shine the light on mental ill-health and give much-needed support to colleagues and friends who may be struggling. However, in the process of planning, it’s probably worth taking a moment to step back and assess the impact of the various initiatives against the framework of “fences vs ambulances”. Do you have the right mix of ambulances in place to take care of today’s casualties? And, just as important, do you also have the right fences established to minimise tomorrow’s?
Did you find this framework helpful? Have you found a more useful one? Please do share your thoughts…
For more insights on ideas to improve mental health in your organisation, check out the guidance from The Mental Health Foundation here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-support-mental-health-work