How to turn mental health on its head

Apr 19, 2021 | Sector & policy

Ahead of ISE’s workshop on developing a preventative approach to mental health, Tessa McEwan from Developing Talent shares advice.

I believe that now is the time for organisations to look at mental health differently.  It has been encouraging to see the adoption of awareness raising initiatives, greater recognition and support for those experiencing mental health challenges, the introduction of mental health first aiders and access to counselling – but these are largely reactive interventions.

The real opportunity to turn mental health on its head lies in developing a systemic approach that encompasses reviewing the role of early talent, the tasks they perform, their working environment and how we can help them develop the skills needed to maintain their mental fitness in our new working world.

In this system, reactive support becomes less common because the demands placed on individuals are carefully considered and individuals have been taught important skills to protect themselves against some of the most common mental health conditions.

Is this a possibility or a eutopia that feels out of reach and based on idealism?  What do you think?

Preventative approach to mental health

Research has already established that a preventative approach to mental health delivers a greater return on investment than the types of reactive support mentioned above (source: Deloitte).

Programmes are emerging that show it is possible to develop new skills that improve resilience and the ability to bounce back from hardship more quickly.   Organisations will continue to evolve to a better ‘future state’.

But how do you turn mental health on its head in practical terms when for many it feels impossible?

The last year has had a significant impact on early talent mental fitness. This decline is on top of an existing trend of worsening mental health in recent years.   In addition, with increasing demands being placed on early talent teams due to widening remits and less resource the current situation does not feel sustainable.

With this now a critical issue, we need to understand the different types of mental ill health that early talent experience, have open conversations about the causes and see the true impact mental ill health is having on organisations and on internal resources.  Three key opportunities to gain buy in and support for change are:

1) Make mental health part of your strategy

The approach to mental health will become a key differentiator of organisations’ success in future, with early talent development programmes playing a crucial role in identifying and developing talent with emotional literacy and a mental health skill set.  Rather than introducing a series of initiatives, take a strategic approach.

2) Develop a proactive approach

Naturally, the evolution of mental health support has focussed on reactive support for those who need it immediately.  Recognising the importance of proactively developing skills in early talent – and the business case for this – will be key in moving to a more effective approach that also supports building skills needed for the future of work.

3) Male the link to diversity, equity and inclusion

Research shows that mental ill health is more common in many of the groups and communities that early talent employers are increasingly targeting.  Taking a holistic view of mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion will lead to better recruitment and retention outcomes in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation and disability etc.

This is a critical issue facing early talent programmes and organisations more generally, and I am delighted that we will be exploring this further at the forthcoming ISE workshop Turning mental health on its head on 27 & 29 April 2021.

This virtual workshop is designed to ensure that early talent development programmes keep up to date with the needs of early talent and the business they are part of.  You will learn how to be proactive in mitigating the risks of mental ill health in your cohort during the development programme and beyond.

We will also cover how to support line managers with sensitive conversations around mental ill health, to equip them with skills and tools to manage early talent who require support. Train the trainer slides and presenters notes will be made available covering this section of the course should you wish to run internal sessions with line managers in your organisation.

I hope to see you there.

Register for Tessa’s webinar with ISE: Turning mental health on its head

Read Tessa’s 7 steps to improving graduate & student mental health

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