The following is a guest article from Joan Freeman. Joan Freeman is an Irish psychologist, mental health activist and an Independent politician who served as a Senator from May 2016 to March 2020, after being nominated by the then TaoiseachEnda Kenny. She is the founder of Pieta House, a national mental health services charity. She resigned from Pieta House in 2014. She contended as a candidate in the 2018 presidential election.

 

No matter how many celebrities publicly talk about their mental health, no matter how much advertising on the television by the HSE – ‘to let someone know’, the narrative around mental health is still stilted, stigmatized and sluggish.  And yet, mental illnesses are fast becoming the leading cause of disease globally.

Many years ago, the HSE decided to close down psychiatric hospitals so that people with mental health difficulties could be treated in their own community. Makes sense… except that nothing was put in place that could support the idea. While there are mental health services provided by the HSE – where people, in particular people with enduring mental health illnesses can attend a psychiatrist, the model is obviously a medical one. This means that there is a complete reliance on medication with little or no psychological intervention.

To successfully address mental health concerns, we need a holistic approach that will have a blanket effect on the community. This means not just have mental health services that target the medical aspect when a person is emotionally unwell but looking at all the other aspects – counselling, home visits/supports, educating the community and starting programs for children at an early age. This educational aspect means teaching children how to cope, to be resilient. Meditation and mindfulness in children as young as 4 years of age has proved to be extremely successful and many national schools are including this in their curriculum.  The reason why mental health should be addressed locally is because being part of a community can have a positive effect on mental health and emotional wellbeing. Community involvement provides a sense of belonging and social connectedness. It can also offer extra meaning and purpose to everyday life.

 

Society tends to focus on people who have mental health difficulties, when they need medical intervention. However, it is important that people do not wait until they are unwell before they address their mental health and wellbeing. It should be about prevention rather than intervention which usually means firefighting. While the corporate world is trying to introduce wellbeing and positive mental health in the workplace by having ‘Wellness Days’ where they may introduce yoga or mindfulness and encourage staff to participate. It really to a large extent is only tokenism.  Ignoring mental health amongst employees can have a significant economic impact as a result of lost productivity. In particular since the Covid19 Pandemic, employees are experiencing anxiety and uncertainty like never before – but in what way and to what degree?

There are many actions that organizations can and should take to promote positive psychological health in the workplace; such actions may also benefit productivity, presenteeism and retain and attract employees of high calibre.

Companies should consider having a Mental Health Assessment which will provide a comprehensive guide for organizational development as it considers four key action areas: Organizational Effectiveness, Organizational Culture, Effective Workforce and Risk Management.

This type of assessment will give an individualized report that will provide an organization with a “snap shot” of its employee’s mental health and the organization’s response to promoting mental health, information that can be used to identify priorities and goals and develop an action plan.

This type of audit should not be focused on companies alone, but target a cross section of the community where age, gender, employment status and social status will allow us to measure how psychologically healthy the community is. How can you address the mental health of a community when you have no base line to start with?