Jaemin Frazer (main photo) is a life coach, TEDx speaker and author of ‘Unhindered -The 7 essential practices for overcoming insecurity’. He is the founder of the Insecurity Project and specialises in helping leaders and business owners eradicate insecurity so they can show up to life unhindered by doubt, fear and self-limiting beliefs. This is his first column for B&T….
According to a ABS study, almost half of all working Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. It is estimated that these mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year. A figure that has doubled in recent years and comprises $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism (when an employee is at work but is less productive than usual because of illness or injury) and $146 million in compensation claims.
While it must be said that some workplace strategies to combat this trend do make a difference, for all the increased awareness and conversation about the growing mental health issue, the problem only continues to grow. There are three main reasons why talking about mental health has not reduced the amount of mental health issues in the workplace.
- Labels disempower and misdirect
Describing the problem as a mental health issue is far too abstract and imprecise.
The problem is not mental health or mental ill health, nor is it anxiety or depression. These labels are an attempt at describing the issue but end up positioning the issue as external to the person and leaving them powerless to improve their situation.
As Canadian Psychologist and author Jordan Peterson says in his ground-breaking book 12 rules for life, it is imperative to be precise in your speech. Things that remain imprecise become monsters in your mind that will eventually consume you. He says: “You have to consciously define the topic of a conversation especially when it is difficult – or it becomes about Prozac. And everything is too much.”
When the issue is talked about as a mental health, it appears that the action is happening in some undisclosed location within the brain which misdirects the attention from specific causes. This label is far too broad and vague to be of any real value, and because we continue to talk about it in this way, only makes the issue harder and harder to deal with.
The best those suffering with ‘mental health’ issues can do therefore, is mask, manage or medicate the issue. It is simply not possible to solve the problem when it is framed this way.
- Government and Corporate mental health programs seem far more interested in looking good than doing good.
Annual initiatives such as R U OK day aimed at tackling the mental health issue head on are classic examples of shiny programs that are unlikely to offer real results.
Without being overly critical, it seems that the real value of these workplace initiatives is the outward showing of commitment to do something about the issue. On closer inspection however, these empty strategies only make things worse.
Surely scripting a flow-chart response for such a basic human interaction as checking on the well-being of the people you care about, one day a year is horribly inept way of solving the mental health issue. It can only weaken the collective consciousness and lower the expectation of what it means to be human.
- The most common strategies for dealing with mental health are aimed at the symptoms rather than then cause.
Mental health awareness completely fails to understand the deeper cause of the issue in the first place, so creates more pain for people by bringing the issue up with no genuine way of solving the problem. For example, according to Inc Magazine the top 8 strategies for creating a mentally healthier workplace are:
- Promote work/life balance
- Discuss mental health in the workplace
- Offer free screening tools
- Talk about the benefits of employee assistance programs regularly
- Make wellness a priority
- Provide in service events
- Support employee’s efforts to get help
- Reduce the stigma of mental health
At first glance, this may seem like a useful list, however on closer inspection it is full of rhetoric that at best can provide a short term band-aid solution, and at worst leaves people further removed from genuine solutions that would end the suffering. All time, money and effort spent tyring to deal with the symptoms of the true problem is ultimately wasted energy. It changes nothing.
The real problem.
The solution to the mental health crisis can only come with an accurate and precise diagnosis of the problem. Of all the underlying issues leading to mental health, by far the most impactful and least addressed is personal insecurity. It is the fear of not being good enough that constantly leaves people feeling the need to prove and defend themselves.
This underlying fear of being inadequate weakens people to the point of mental instability and ultimately madness.
Mental health at its core is an insecurity problem. The good news is that as soon as the issue is understood this way, it can finally be solved.
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