Distinguishing Wellbeing from Mental Health – Why it Matters

Amy Marwood shares her thoughts around why it’s important to distinguish wellbeing from mental health. Amy is a lawyer, public speaker and also a consultative council panel member for Nacoa UK. You can find and follow Amy on LinkedIn.

It is through the lens of my lived experience in mental health disability, that I share with you the importance of distinguishing wellbeing from mental health. Although the two are linked, they are separate, and here is why.

Wellbeing

It is thought that wellbeing is needed for the general health and happiness of all. To support the wellbeing of staff, organisations may offer yoga; meditation; subsidised gym memberships; time to volunteer and give back to their community; mindfulness courses; and encouragement in taking time for breaks, walking in nature and getting fresh air. Although such things may help a person with a mental health condition, they are not necessarily the solution. In fact, a person with a mental health condition at times may not feel able to do some of these things, particularly if their health takes a dip.

Mental Health

People with mental health conditions (including those with disabilities) such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder for example, may require treatment such as medication and/or therapy from primary care or secondary care clinicians. Their health is on a continuum; what I like to call a traffic light system. Some days may be better than others, but their health can fluctuate and move from green (a good day for them) to amber and from amber to red (crisis) when their health is triggered.

Recovery may be long-term and in some cases life-long. This does not mean that they are unable to work, in fact it is found to be quite the opposite should they have appropriate support and reasonable adjustments in place. The attainable benchmark is identifying ways to support that person to remain and thrive at work.

NHS waiting lists for treatment may be on average one to two years and so it would be helpful for employers to bear in mind this stressor staff may face during recovery. An employee assistance programme may be helpful to a certain extent to ease part of the NHS waiting list time. However, the offerings of corporate packages may be limited and could be unsuitable for those that are treated in secondary care who need more specialised treatment.

One vital source of support is ensuring that there are good relationships with line managers and colleagues that provide a safe space to communicate. This does not mean that you need to be a clinician or a counsellor (as some might think), but it is instead about good active listening and communication skills, with relevant signposting.

It is also vital that organisations have effective internal policies, procedures and training in place. In my opinion, training on mental health should be made available for all staff to normalise mental health awareness and help them to look out for the signs in themselves and colleagues at any level. After all, you may be confident in spotting the signs of a broken leg and calling for physical first aid but are you competent in spotting the signs that require the attention of a mental health first-aider? The latter being equally as important as the former, yet it seems there is a long way to go until this is normalised in society.

Why do we need the distinction?

From reading this, it may go without saying that it is important to distinguish wellbeing from mental health because the two are somewhat different, with individual mental health needs requiring appropriate tailored support. Some may argue that we should perhaps refer to ‘mental ill health’ or ‘mental illness’ rather than ‘mental health’, however I find that those descriptions have negative connotations since people are able to return, remain and thrive at work with the right reasonable adjustments and appropriate levels of support in place.