Another’ World Mental Health Day’ has come and gone. Much has been said and too little has been done. The fact that the noise levels on mental health have gone up is a good thing. It is no longer being swept under the carpet, the pixie dust is everywhere and landing on everyone in some measure. When confronted with danger or difficulty, the fight or flight response kicks in. Like in Peter Pan where the magical pixie dust enabled flight, it is knowledge and awareness about Mental Health that will enable us to give wings to the actions that need to come alive to make the world healthier in body and soul.
There is no escaping the importance of Mental Health at home, at work, or play. The pandemic and the trauma that it has caused to lives and livelihoods has ensured that Mental Health as a topic is now firmly placed on the mantelpiece for everybody to see.
My first close encounter with this topic began in Goa at #PRAXIS2019, on the 27th of September, two years ago. I wandered into a room looking for a place to sit. Found a backbencher position and settled in. On stage was a Psychiatrist, Dr. Samir Parikh, talking to a motley crew of PR people about the importance of Mental Health. Till this talk, I had never really thought about the topic in any serious way, and I certainly knew very little about it. By the end of his talk, I was asking myself “What is my role… what can I do?”
I had no knowledge of the topic, no desire to know more about it, and even less inclination to be part of the solution. Problems like this were best left alone as far as I was considered. “Not my monkey, not my circus” was my take on it before I walked into this talk, that was a turning point in my journey. I still know just a little, but every day I learn more. This is why I believe a little knowledge about mental health is better than none. A little bit of caring for myself and my people. A little bit of introspection about my role in this mosaic of mental health, and how I can contribute, is a beginning. (my first post on this topic https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mentalist-nikhil-dey)
Public Relations is ranked amongst the most stressful careers and hence by extension, mental health and wellness of the professionals in this space had to be of prime importance. This is how I began to see the need of looking at myself as a mental health advocate. Dr. Parikh’s message was simple, it starts with me, I need to speak up and share my own experiences. This is what brought me to the doorstep of learning about Mental Health. My work as a life and leadership coach is also an extension of this desire to be part of the solution and do my bit, to add to the world of mental wellness.
Alexander Pope, in an essay on criticism, published in 1709, said “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” In this journey of learning about mental health, I have gone through these phases and am now sober and aware of how much needs to be done. Done, not said. I am also very aware of how little I still know, but this is no excuse for inaction. I must hold myself to a higher standard. Learn more. Do more. A little knowledge in itself is not dangerous. Not knowing how little I know about something so important is dangerous. Belittling others due to ignorance and fear and missing important cues and signs due to a lack of knowledge, is where the true danger lies.
The Illness Vs Wellness reframe: As communicators, we all understand the power of the headline, the frame through which a story is told. Mental health needs a new headline, away from illness and disease to one of wellness and ease. The one I am currently working with is “Mental Health will be the next big driver of competitive advantage.” Like the world has taken to healthy eating and exercise and we are all clear that we feel better and perform better when physically fit and in top condition. The same wave is coming for Mental Health. Take a look at how the World Health Organization (WHO), defines Mental Health – “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
The shift from illness to wellness in defining mental health is a great start. But it is only a start. The next step is to embrace and catalyse real change. Having an Employee Assistance Program is not enough. Inviting guest speakers on World Mental Health day is not enough. These are important ticks in the box. Real change comes from addressing the underlying drivers that cause the problem – for example, having an HR and hiring policy that ensures that teams are well staffed and that there are always enough well-qualified and motivated people to do the work. This allows managers and leaders to show empathy and compassion, instead of “I hope you feel better soon…. Can you please let me know by when you can finish the document, I need it in the next two hours…”. A well-staffed and resource surplus organisation allows people who need the time and space to navigate mental health issues to take time off. It also allows people the chance to remain in states of good mental health because they can dance across the work-life tightrope with balance and poise. This kind of thinking will lead to long-term competitive advantages. A mentally well workforce, will thrive and win in the marketplace.
The PR professional of the future will be one who embraces mental health and understands his or her power to create a state of mental wellbeing. The PR professional of the future will take responsibility for the wellbeing of their teams and by extension create a psychologically safe work environment. In this safe space, creativity will flourish and collaboration will unleash its power. Our energy is contagious. We bring with us a wave of mental wellness when we are in a good space. It starts with us. Each one of us. #UnmuteYourself
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