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According to new research, scientists advocate for a holistic approach to mental health that integrates physical and mental wellbeing.

They emphasize that while the medication is commonly used to treat mental health conditions, it is equally important to consider environmental, lifestyle, and social factors. This comprehensive approach focuses on addressing the emotional, physical and mental needs of individuals.

Several practical steps can be taken to help employers implement this holistic approach in the workplace to create a supportive and healthy environment for employees.

Here are some strategies to consider…

#1 Establish clear lines of communication

Dealing with employees with mental health problems requires employers to lead with empathy and recognize any personal issues which may have affected their wellbeing at work. After all, they’re only human, and while many desire to leave their troubles at the door, often that is easier said than done.

That’s why encouraging open and regular communication is a key component in adopting a holistic approach to mental health.

With a recent poll revealing there’s still a stigma attached to discussing mental health issues with colleagues, leaders should foster an environment where employees feel safe discussing their mental health without fear of judgment.

To break this barrier, employers can establish regular check-ins and group discussions. These sessions provide a supportive platform for employees to share their experiences and seek advice, promoting a culture of openness and understanding within the workplace.

#2 Encourage physical activity

Promoting physical activity is equally important, as physical and mental health are interconnected.

It’s well known that physical exercise releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine, which make us feel positive and relieve stress—but the benefits of ’emotional fitness’ on physical health are less widely known.

However, recent findings from Nuffield Health’s 2024 Healthier Nation Index found that in the last year, 46.20 percent said work had negatively impacted their physical/mental health.

Despite the well-documented benefits of physical activity for improving mental health, many employees lack the time to engage due to work demands. Nearly half (45.70%) of respondents admit that lack of time due to work acted as a barrier, with 42.91 percent stating that more time should be put aside for it.

However, physical activity is vital for improving mental health, and a holistic approach requires employers to understand this link and promote movement in the workplace.

Employers can support their workforce by encouraging regular outdoor breaks, subsidizing gym memberships, or offering on-site health assessments. These initiatives promote physical health and enhance mental well-being.

#3 Signpost relevant wellbeing resources

Sometimes, just talking things through with someone who’s removed from the situation and has professional training in alleviating emotional issues is key to improving mental health problems.

As an employer, providing wellbeing support to your workforce will not only help boost emotional well-being, but it will also enhance productivity and likely increase retention.

Available support may consist of services like Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Counselling, and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to assist employees dealing with personal difficulties that might negatively affect their work performance, health, and wellbeing.

But if employees don’t know how to access it, what use is that to them?

Enhancing access to mental health support means clearly signposting the available resources through various communication channels, such as regular emails, a virtual wellbeing hub, or an office huddle, to keep employees informed. This ensures that employees know how to access the help they need when they need it.

And if in-house support is not available, providing information on external charities and services can be beneficial.

By Gosia Bowling, National Lead for Mental Health at Nuffield Health.

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