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Intrapersonal skills as a proactive way to personal sustainability

The business costs of poor mental health are increasing, and we can't afford to ignore the problem

Fatigue, boredom, lack of engagement, absenteeism and presenteeism are all symptoms of internal mental malfunctioning. As any HR manager or team leader will know, stress, burnout and depression can affect team relationship dynamics and individual mental health and cause loss of revenue and other costs.

The Centre for Mental Health 2006/07 report, Mental health at work: developing the business case, found that the overall cost to British employers of stress, anxiety and depression amounted to £1,035 per employee per year. Of this, £335 was due to absenteeism, £605 lost through presenteeism, and £95 was down to staff turnover.

Ten years on, the Centre for Mental Health has provided an update for the financial year 2016/17, and its findings show that the same overall costs increased to £1,300 per employee per year, reflecting a significant 25.6% rise. Absenteeism increased to £395 (up 17.9%), presenteeism is now at £790 (a 30.5% increase) and staff turnover at £115 (up some 21%). Overall costing the UK economy £34.9 billion, this shows a 34.7% increase from £25.9 billion in 2006/07. Based on these figures we can only surmise that over the next 10 years we will see a similar pattern. Can we really afford to just ignore this problem?

New approach – proactive mental wellness

Because of the nature of office work, we can assume that the proportions of demand placed upon employees are approximately 10% physical and 90% mental. However, employees who do such mental work are rarely offered skills on how to protect their mental health properly.

In my scientific article, Developing Intra-Personal Skills as a Proactive Way to Personal Sustainability - The Preventative Side of the Mental Health Equation, I put forward the need for a proactive approach to mental health, which can be particularly applicable to workplace environments.

This article outlines a new approach to mental health as something that everyone should actively strive towards. It also shifts the focus from external, reactive, problem-solving approaches, (the commonplace solutions of today such as medical leave, prescription drugs and psychiatric therapy), towards a more proactive education on mental wellness. This approach sees people who are still well learn new skills to prevent further escalation of negative states into potential illness.

Intrapersonal skills formulate the cornerstone of self-leadership

Early proactive intervention in the form of structured awareness-based intrapersonal skills education increases quality of life and decreases the chances of stress, burnout, depression, anxiety and so forth, all of which have become epidemic and have serious consequences for individuals, companies and economies alike.

The term intrapersonal - ‘intra’ meaning inside - separates our inner functions and processes from the physiological functions of the body. Learning intrapersonal skills opens up other skills; much like when we learn to read, many other skills and competencies can be developed. In this sense, intrapersonal skills form the foundation of any successful career, yet are lacking in workplaces and the wider business world because of their absence in current educational curricula.

The need for a mental wellness gym

When mental wellness is approached proactively, it can be likened to going to the gym. We all know that going to the gym is good for our physical health and overall wellbeing. Workplaces therefore need ‘mental wellness gyms’ where employees can train their knowledge tools and practise directing their inner functions whenever they need to.

There is strong and repeated evidence that intrapersonal events have a direct effect on the function and structure of the brain. Therefore, skills to direct these events can lead to changes in wiring and neurotransmitter activity in the human brain.

Until people are educated to exercise methods of conscious control over their emotional activation, it is only a matter of time before the destructive automatic emotional-mental complexes get triggered and initiate a cascade of problematic events, including irrational or destructive behaviour. When people learn and realise how their inner domain functions, a more sustainable way of handling - as well as preventing - problems can emerge.

Helena Lass is a psychiatrist specialising in mental wellness and founder of Wellness Orbit