For too long physical and mental health have been considered separate entities when they are in fact inextricably linked. So it’s important that employers take the same approach to both to give their staff the best support. Physical exercise can release endorphins to improve mental health; and good mental health has also been shown to reduce physical problems including heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Employers can benefit from encouraging staff to look after both their mental and physical health, and one way is to show how the same maintenance principles apply:
- Early diagnosis central to recovery
We know, for example with cancer, that the earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances of recovery, and the less likely invasive and prolonged treatment will be required. The same approach can be applied to mental health; identifying a concern early can help stop an issue escalating.
Company-organised health screenings, whether standalone or part of private medical insurance (PMI), can help to keep tabs on physical health – for example, identifying if someone is at higher risk of diabetes, and enabling them to seek medical advice before it potentially worsens. Similarly, having employees that are trained mental health first aiders, can give them the tools needed to identify when someone is struggling and have the knowledge to point them in the right direction to seek further support. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chance of expediting recovery.
- Creating a healthy culture
Having initiatives in place to support good mental and physical wellbeing is one thing, making sure they are actively advocated, supported and participated in is quite another. Employees may want to take advantage of their discounted gym membership, but if leaving work on time to exercise is frowned upon – they may not feel able to. Similarly, saying the business promotes good mental wellbeing – when the reality of working there is less than supportive, sends mixed messages.
Initiatives such as mental health forums, and creating a culture of sensible working hours and regular breaks, should be taken – but it will only work if it is advocated from the top and led by example. Only then will a truly healthy culture prevail, one in which employees feel empowered to take control of their mental and physical wellbeing – safe in the knowledge that the business is supporting them.
- Body and mind need regular exercise
Regular exercise is central to maintaining good physical health, with NHS guidelines suggesting that 150 minutes of activity each week (equating to 30 minutes, five days a week) is required to stay healthy. Whilst a similar timeframe hasn’t yet been identified for mental health, it is widely understood that taking time out – to switch off, relax, meditate or be mindful, for example – is beneficial to maintaining good mental health.
Employers should aim to accommodate the need for time to be carved out, to maintain good physical and mental wellbeing as far as possible. This could include organising group exercise sessions, such as a workplace running club, or providing discounted gym membership – to encourage staff to meet physical activity guidelines. Equally, ensuring time is taken out to sustain good mental health – such as encouraging full lunchbreaks or engaging in company-sponsored mental health apps and downloading free meditation guides – is also important. Advocating the importance of exercise, to maintain good mental and physical wellbeing, and creating the opportunities for staff to participate can go a long way in keeping body and mind in check.
Brett Hill, managing director at The Health Insurance Group, comments: “We shouldn’t treat mental and physical health as two separate entities but as intrinsically linked. The same principles of looking after mental health apply to physical health, and employers need to make this clear to staff, providing them with the tools needed to take action.
“Giving staff the space, culture and opportunities to look after their body and mind pays dividends in the long run. Employers that understand their role in helping staff to maintain their mental and physical health, ultimately benefit from a healthier and happier workforce.”