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Navigating the 'meh' this Mental Health Month

As we find ourselves smack-bang in Mental Health Month, some news and perspectives on our mental health

Our iPhones could soon know when we're depressed

Before we even register a ‘meh’, our phones may be able to give us a tip-off.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is working with UCLA and pharmaceutical company, Biogen, to develop tech that can help diagnose depression and cognitive decline.

This tech would make use of users’ sensor data, including mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns – and perhaps more surprisingly, typing behaviour (including the frequency of typos!) as well as speech, breathing and heartbeat patterns. It’s believed that this data may hold insights into the state of mind of users.

Researchers hope that they’ll be able to identify the digital signals associated with depression, so that algorithms can be created to reliably detect them – hopefully, aiding earlier diagnoses of mental health issues.

Still ‘languishing’ through 2021? Find your flow in your job joy

Adam Grant is the organisational psychologist who, earlier this year, observed our collective feeling of ‘languishing’ and how it might just be the prevailing emotion of 2021.

In his latest TED Talk, Grant suggests that the antidote to languishing is ‘flow’. For many, (*raises hand*) finding ‘flow’ can feel like catching lightning in a bottle.

But, ‘flow’ doesn’t have to lie in something ‘productive’ – it should be in something joyful. For Grant, it was in a daily game of Mario Kart with his family. For others, it’s in baking, running – and yes, even working.

No matter where you find it, it’s important. Grant observes “in the early days of the pandemic, researchers found that the best predictor of wellbeing was not optimism – it was flow.”

Three conditions will always be present in any ‘flow’ state. Here, they’re framed in a workplace setting.

- Mastery: “At work, the strongest factor in daily motivation and joy is a sense of progress.” Find any simple, small wins that make you feel as though you’re moving forward.

- Mindfulness: “There’s evidence people are switching tasks every ten minutes, creating ‘time confetti’, the enemy of both energy and excellence.” Set aside time for uninterrupted, deep and focused work – and guard it, zealously.

- Mattering: “Think about the people who would be worse off if your job didn’t exist? Those are the people who make your work, matter. You need to know their names, their faces and their stories.”

Importantly, he notes that a culture of toxic positivity can make it hard to talk about languishing. It’s a culture all too often seen and propped up in workplaces. “I think we need to re-think our understanding of mental health and wellbeing… when someone says ‘how are you?’ it’s OK to say “honestly, I’m languishing””.

A new era for workplace mental health

The importance of giving voice to mental health challenges is now widely known. Increasingly, it’s a voice we’re hearing in our workplaces – in part, driven by necessity amid the pandemic.

Harvard Business Review observes this normalisation of mental health challenges in the workplace. It’s a silver-lining, alright: “until recently, the conversation has primarily centred on pre-existing mental health conditions and the related stigma. Increasingly, the focus is on work’s effect on everyone’s mental health.”

With this, we’ve seen the rise of ‘mental health days’ in corporate workplaces – the dentsu network just observed one such day. In the US, companies including Bumble, LinkedIn and HubSpot have offered employees a ‘burnout break’ – a synchronised week of paid leave which allows employees to be ‘fully offline’.

Such initiatives are important and likely valued by employees (*raises hand again!*), but they’re not a silver bullet. Cultural change is key: visibility and vulnerability in sharing mental health challenges – including from business leaders. “When people see their colleagues — and bosses — being upfront about their struggles, mental health days also have the added benefit of reducing the stigma of mental illness.”

HBR’s research into workplace mental health in 2021 found that “the “resource” most desired by respondents (31%) was a more open culture around mental health.”

Hearing others’ stories help us open up

Osher Günsberg lends his own voice to the importance of talking about mental health: “you can’t fix a problem if you don’t knowledge it exists”.

Günsberg’s personal journey in overcoming depression and suicidal ideation features in one episode of SBS’ Australia Uncovered documentary series, which first aired in September. Another episode explores comedian Celia Pacquola’s struggle with crippling anxiety. What struck me in watching their documentaries – aside from their astounding candour and vulnerability – was their willingness to recount how their mental health challenges have directly impacted their work. Pacquola, in particular, finds shared experiences in anxiety and work with with actor Hugh Sheridan, musician Clare Bowditch and AFL footballer, Mitch Morton. Perhaps, we’re shedding some of that stigma.

In summary, share the ‘meh’, yeah.

Lauren Ellis

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