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Mental health and wellbeing is not an option or a luxury: Dr Sunita Rai, Clinical Psychologist

Mental health and wellbeing is not an option or a luxury: Dr Sunita Rai, Clinical Psychologist


People have more choices over the companies they want to join and stay with. When companies lag behind competitors who prioritise wellbeing, your best talents may want to jump ship, Dr Sunita Rai reminds us. 

Today, 10 October 2022, marks 30 years of advocating for and recognising mental health as a global priority, with the first World Mental Health Day marked on 10 October 1992, at the initiative of Richard Hunter, Deputy Secretary General of the World Federation for Mental Health. 

Keeping in mind the progress we've made in the last 30 years, and on the corporate side the chasm we've crossed during the pandemic, the momentum must not stop. We must continue to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilise efforts in support of mental wellbeing - at work and in life.

On the occasion, HRO's Jenette Del Mundo, reaches out to Dr Sunita Rai, Managing Director and Clinical Psychologist, Holistic Psychotherapy Center, for a deeper understanding of mental health, happiness, and wellbeing.

Dr. Sunita is an established psychotherapist, organisational wellbeing consultant, certified mindfulness teacher, clinical supervisor, lecturer and an author. She is experienced in providing therapy in schools, children’s homes, counselling centres, family service centres, the prisons and is currently leading a clinic with her associates for the last decade. 

She will be speaking at the upcoming National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference 2022 (NCPC 2022) on 29-30 November 2022 on the topic 'Mindfulness-oriented counselling and psychotherapy: How effective is mindfulness as an intervention tool?'.

Interview excerpts below: 

Q Why it is important for companies to prioritise mental health and wellbeing in today’s workplace environment, or risk losing out on the best talent?

Mental health and wellbeing is not an option or a luxury. In a recent survey, employee wellbeing was placed as a top priority by 68% of HR leaders. I strongly believe that when companies invest in the mental and physical wellbeing of their employees, they automatically gain a competitive edge.

Today employees want meaningful engagements and satisfaction at work, as well as emotional connections with their colleagues and bosses, open appreciation of one another, and opportunities to grow vertically and horizontally. And we know from research findings that when companies invest in the wellbeing of the staff, the staff take more initiative and care more about their work, and become better collaborators. From a financial perspective, companies can reduce both training and health care costs.

We need to recognise that today people have more choices over the companies they want to join and stay with. When companies lag behind competitors who prioritise wellbeing, their best talents may want to jump ship for reasons beyond monetary rewards.

So I would say it is a win-win to prioritise wellbeing at work.

Q How can companies take a holistic approach to promoting mental health in the workplace? What are we currently getting wrong that we need to improve upon?

I have come across many companies having wellness programmes and/or employee assistance programmes (EAP) to support mental health. These are great initiatives. However, it is very much done in isolation without a holistic strategy. A holistic approach requires a paradigm shift within leaders.

I use the Integrated Wellbeing Model (IWM) when consulting with leaders and organisations to review their wellbeing intentions against the backdrop of the entire culture of the company. I utilise the IWM as a tool to understand what is going well in the organisation in promoting wellbeing and also to look for areas to enhance and make it more holistic.

In the IWM, there are five broad areas that any organisation needs to consider when promoting wellbeing or mental health: spatial, physical, emotional, intellectual, and eudaimonic wellbeing (SPEIE). For example, in spatial, you may need to review policies, work structure, work space, greenery, colour psychology and others. There are many sub-elements within SPEIE to consider.

Q Could you share examples of high-impact mental health interventions you've experienced, and how they have made significant changes?

Yes, there have been quite a few. For example, I have trained organisational leaders, and also teachers and lecturers, on evidence-based mindfulness over a one day workshop and some over eight weeks. We have measured the impact and also seen how just training the leaders itself had significant impact at the workplace such as lowered stress levels, less judgements, more compassion, and increased value for DEI initiatives.

Other high-impact interventions included introducing structured one-one meetings with employees once a month by team leads, co-creating solutions for their mental health rather than one-size-fits-all approach and empathy trainings.

Q Finally, please share with us some tips for leaders and employees to protect their mental health and wellbeing at work.

While leaders can support the wellbeing of their teams, it is important that employees too invest in their own wellbeing. For a start, I would suggest try a few of the following:

  • Uplifting environment: What are things you can place things in your environment that uplift you? Such as family pictures, brighter colours, and greenery.
  • Movement: Could you introduce 5-10 minute movements for every 90 mins of work? This can be a stretch or a walk or a jog on the spot. Or even a standing meeting.
  • Positive emotions: What can you do to increase daily positive emotions? Notice and focus on your positive attributes or strengths, spend more time with colleagues who are nurturing, and step out of the workplace for lunch.
  • Engage in positive self-talk and avoid the 3Ps (personalising, pervasiveness, permanence) of processing negative events.
  • Practice mindfulness such as focusing on the present moment, focusing on your breath and engaging with your five senses.
  • Practice gratitude daily before sleep.

Restart, recharge, reconnect at the fourth annual National Counselling & Psychotherapy Conference (NCPC 2022), a wellbeing conference dedicated to topics such as innovations in mental healthcare, mindfulness-centred practice, couples’ goals and staying connected post-pandemic, art therapy and children with special needs, and more. Find out how you can attend here.

Photo / HRO

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