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Why mental health first aid is high on the business and global agenda

Institution News Team

there are still millions of people across the UK who are struggling with the stress of the pandemic
there are still millions of people across the UK who are struggling with the stress of the pandemic

Mental health is in the limelight, and with good reason, particularly in light of recent global events.

It remains difficult to accurately measure the incidence of mental health-related issues. This is partly due to the stigma still associated with mental illness, which still prevents a percentage of people from reaching out and getting the support they need. Now more than ever, there is a need to educate around this area – to stimulate real, genuinely empathetic discussion so that we can begin to reduce stress and absenteeism due to poor mental health – for good.

'An international study has revealed that 41% of the UK population’s mental health is at risk because of the COVID-19 crisis.[1]

One in four people will experience a mental health issue in any given year

We know that mental health issues are common. The most recent statistics tell us that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health issue in any given year - most commonly stress-related issues, anxiety and depression. This was before the pandemic and its known impact on people’s mental health.

'In a UK-wide, long-term study, 49% of the population had felt anxious or worried during June 2020, down from 62% in mid-March. But there are still millions of people across the UK who are struggling with the stress of the pandemic. Therefore, it is important to look at the effects over time and watch for groups that might need more help as their social circumstances change during each phase of the recovery.' [2]

We all have physical, emotional and mental health

'We all can experience mental health problems, whatever our background or walk of life. But the risk of experiencing mental ill-health is not equally distributed across our society. Those who face the greatest disadvantages in life also face the greatest risk to their mental health. Studies have found that unemployment has a range of negative effects, including relative poverty or a drop in standards of living for those who lose a job, stresses associated with financial insecurity, the shame of being unemployed and in receipt of social welfare and loss of vital social networks.' [3]

For many, the term mental health still has negative connotations. However, mental health is doesn’t really differ from physical health. Just as our physical health is fluid and differs from person to person, so does our mental health.

The state of our physical can influence our mental health and vice versa. Neither are good or bad, it’s simply our current state and lies somewhere on a continuum from positive mental, physical and emotional wellbeing through to poor health in each of these three areas.

We all had P.E. lessons at school, so from a very young age we know what we can do to keep physically fit - but I was taught little or nothing about maintaining mental health at school. This needs to change. Exercise is a proven way of protecting our mental wellbeing, with the link between physical and mental health being strong. Very rarely do I hear people say that they go to the gym for their mental health.

'Researchers who pooled information from 49 studies from around the world, found that people who did the most physical activity were less likely to get depression than those who did the least. One of the conclusions drawn was that people who managed 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week had 31% lower risk of depression than those who did not.' [4]

'There is extensive research that shows that good social relationships and networks promote and are a protective factor for wellbeing and mental health.' [5] 

If we can commit to sharing this knowledge, to deepening our understanding of these various states, there is no doubt that we will experience lower stress, feel better supported and live more fulfilled and happier lives.

We, at the Institution, are committed to help the engineering community face modern challenges, so we will be running two new Mental Health courses:

  • Mental Health Awareness (4-hour virtual course): Understand the true meaning of mental health, learn to recognise some common mental health issues and how you can help someone who needs support.
  • Mental Health First Aid (2-day virtual course): Learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill-health in yourself and others and provide help on a first aid basis, even in a crisis situation.

For more information or to book visit the respective course pages or contact the Learning and Development Team at training@imeche.org.


References

1. Open Evidence.
2Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic.
3. Helliewell J, Putnam R. The Social Context of Well-Being. University of British Columbia and Harvard University, Cambridge; 2004.
4. NHS.uk.
5. mentalhealth.org.uk.

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