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Are Organisations Getting Mental Health Wrong?

The awareness of mental health in the workplace is growing – and quite right too. Workshops, webinars and conferences are driving important messages about stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD and schizophrenia. Companies are training their managers in how to have conversations that will get people openly talking about their conditions and experiences and, hopefully, the move to feel less isolated is growing.

Despite these good efforts, I do wonder whether we’re missing something that’s just as important and just as limiting. Something that is an underlying cause of stress, anxiety or depression.

What I’m talking about here is energy – or the lack of it. Not because you’ve overdone it over the weekend and feel exhausted or you’ve been coping with an excessive workload recently and have had little time to rest and recover but because you have an undiagnosed or diagnosed condition that has a profound effect on your energy levels. One that causes persistent and overwhelming fatigue that’s much more than feeling tired and sleepy. One that manifests as both physical and mental exhaustion, where every element of your body struggles to function. But of course you do, because you need to work.

The conditions I’m talking about here include conditions such as thyroid disorder, type 1 diabetes, anaemia, and hormonal conditions such as menopause, and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

These conditions impact the functioning of the mitochondria in our cells – the powerhouses of our energy. Your muscles won’t contract without the energy these mighty mitochondria produce. Your liver won’t detox. Your brain will feel foggy.

These conditions can be both debilitating and frustrating and can have a profound effect on mental health because they frequently impact cognitive function leading to a state of low mood or depression.

As I know from personal experience.

For eighteen months my GP tried to get me to take anti-depressants when I knew there was something else impairing my energy and mood and there was – an underactive thyroid gland.

Lack of energy effects the capacity to function and perform and so this becomes a management/organisational issue. And whilst managers are becoming more aware of what depression means, they are woefully unaware of just how tough it is to function when your body is struggling to make the very fuel of life, energy. So, like mental health, which in truth it is part of, it requires managers and leaders to make some adjustments to their workplace.

Two big topics in current management thinking are motivation and engagement. Leaders are constantly on the lookout for magic solutions to their staff engagement and motivation challenges. And academics and consultants wrangle over the correct definitions and propose their own magic solutions.

But maybe they are all looking in the wrong place and maybe their magic solutions are failing because they start from the wrong premise.

Unless and until leaders take this issue on board, they will be failing their organisations and their staff and failing to maximise productivity in their workplace.

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