How to strengthen your mental health strategy

HRD talks to Dr David Batman of Virgin Pulse about ways to support the mental health of employees

How to strengthen your mental health strategy

Enabling a mentally healthy workforce involves HR professionals first accepting that all people are vulnerable, according to Virgin Pulse’s Specialist Consultant in Occupational Medicine, Dr David Batman.

Dr Batman recently conducted a presentation at the Virgin Pulse Insights Breakfast event in Sydney on Strengthening your Employee Mental Health Strategy.

“It’s important to understand that one in three of us will have a major health problem and that statistic is only considering a ‘major’ one,” Dr Batman told HRD.

“We are all vulnerable as human beings. We all have lives outside work which can be just as stressful as inside.”

He added that “prevention has to be the name of the game” and it’s essential to have a culture in place that prioritises having resilient employees.

It’s not about a stress management program to try and identify individual groups of people. Instead, it’s important to have a program which is best for all employees because “resilience is the key for everybody”.

According to Dr Batman, employers should not differentiate between physical and mental health, and instead talk about employee health.

“Through my consultations with people, I take them back to where the problem really started and you can go a long way back,” said Dr Batman.

“It consistently starts with a single event or a single thought which gets implanted in their mind and then becomes a story in their head. This is often a negative story which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Employers should have programs which proactively educate and support employees to manage lifestyle factors, including sleep, exercise, nutrition, hydration and mindfulness, added Dr Batman.

Indeed, too often employees are treated with medication when alternative forms of treatment can be beneficial; in particular, tackling the initial cause of the problem.

“If you look at the evidence, over the course of a day people have about 30,000 – 40,000 thoughts which can be anything from the colour of a carpet to thinking about what to do,” he said.

“Mindfulness is about how you handle those thoughts. A lot of people believe a thought is always true or a certainty when a lot of the time it is not.”

Mindfulness does not stop those thoughts but gives you the ability to look at those thoughts and let them drift away and not be dominated by them, Dr Batman added.

“It helps with sleep, it helps with nutrition, and is one of the key lifestyle factors that we all need to practice. I practice 15 minutes a day and it is a habit now - I miss it when I don’t do it,” he said.

“When a lot of people hear the word mindfulness they think of yoga positions, but something as simple as managing your thoughts quietly for 15 minutes makes a huge difference to me.”

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