A data driven approach to mental health

Having spent the last 10 years working in digital, most of my waking hours are spent neck deep in Excel spreadsheets, algorithms and budgets and those who know me know I absolutely love it! So, when a few years back a counsellor talked to me about a ‘numbers’ approach to mental health I couldn’t help but latch on to it with the hope that, once again, data would prove to be the answer!

This approach looks at mental health like this; let’s say you wake up and just feel ‘normal’ – not ecstatically happy or extremely sad, just what you’d call content and average. We’d say that’s a ‘zero’ on the mental health scale, a base level if you like. For most people zero will be the norm, and they’ll have times where they’re exceedingly happy and registering sevens, eights and nines and other moments where they feel a bit more down and might slip into negative numbers.

If we liken this to the work we do with clients, for the majority their business performance will be relatively stable, but there will still be random fluctuations including good days and bad days, or even seasonal highs and lows – all of which is perfectly normal. We only really need to start to worry if performance is consistently in those negative numbers and on a downwards trajectory.

That’s what it’s like living with a mental health issue. Every day can start off as a negative number. When it comes to issues like anxiety, depression and stress, every day can feel like starting on the back foot.

Boosting your mental health numbers

For a lot of people in this position, there are certain things that can be done to help get their personal ‘account’ in order and boost those numbers. Things like a regular routine, daily exercise, fresh air, contact with friends, a healthy diet and hobbies and interests can all help keep us optimised (I’ll stop with the digital marketing analogies now – I promise!).

Doing all these things can help immeasurably, but even so there are certain times when more is needed. Christmas is a wonderful time of year but for many people struggling with mental health issues, the winter months can be extremely difficult.

It’s harder to go out and get that performance-boosting fresh air (last one sorry), it’s dark earlier (which can induce depressive feelings) and particularly at the moment – with everyone working from home and spending hours and hours alone – it can feel very isolating. For people suffering there is more time to sit and dwell on negative thoughts.

How can you help others?

Everyone knows that talking about these issues can help, but for some people talking about it can be the hardest part. Now more than ever, checking in regularly on friends and colleagues is really important, and even a simple “how are you? No really, how are you?” can go a long way.

And it doesn’t have to stop there. Asking how someone is can be an amazing help and a great start, but there are other ways you can check in and support each other that are fun and engaging and likely to lead to more open and genuine conversations. How about setting up virtual weekly team drinks, an online poker game with a group of people and (dare I say it?) maybe even a Zoom quiz night!
Be inclusive and reach out to people you think may be struggling. Even if they’re not, it’s still always nice to hear from someone on something non-work related!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to give help, being there for one another is one of the most powerful tools for positive mental health and with the year we’ve just had we could all use some mental health optimisation (not even sorry anymore!).