If you had asked me about mental fitness 30 months ago, I wonder what my response would have been. I was fortunate enough to be part-owner of a successful and growing business and a 3-year plan for sale, exit and retirement. Since then, both my life and the world has changed, and I feel much better for it.

The slow road to burnout

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week in 2020, I wrote about my story of burnout in ‘The Working Life Treadmill has Stalled – Is Now the Time to Consider Getting Off?’. This tells the story of my burnout in 2019 and my year of recovery to May 2020, just into lockdown. Chris Argent also did similar in his article ‘Mental Fitness – My Story of trial and error’.

Re-reading my article, even now I find myself re-living some of those emotions and anxieties that I felt at the time. Burnout really is a horrible experience. It is not sudden, that is the problem. It takes its toll over months, if not years. That is why it is so difficult to diagnose and treat, especially by those who are the victims.

The last 12 months has been a whirlwind for everyone. Our worlds have been turned upside-down. I have been one of the lucky ones, working throughout the pandemic with a great team. Some I have yet to meet in the flesh, although that is due to change in the coming weeks. So, what has changed in the last year?

The 12 months that has changed mental fitness for ever

There are several really great reports that provide detailed findings about the impact of the pandemic on our mental health. One of those worth a read is ‘Pandemic one year on: landmark mental health study reveals mixed picture’.

Looking at it from a personal point of view, one of the first lessons I learnt was from Jonny Jacobs, an inspirational CFO and speaker on this subject and a guest at our virtual summit in May 2020. Jonny discussed how the phrase ‘mental health’ has a stigma attached. So, let’s get rid of that by talking about ‘mental fitness’. Just like we have a level of ‘physical fitness’ that fluctuates over time, so does our ‘mental fitness’.

I have also had the privilege of chairing a mental health roundtable at the GenerationCFO Live event in February. Joining Jonny as a panellist was Nick Elston, another with an inspirational story to tell. On the back of this, we have now formed a think tank with digital mental healthcare provider Kooth and published a ‘CFO Briefing: mental health on your balance sheet – is it an asset or a liability?’.

I can count myself lucky that I have been able to learn so much about mental fitness over the last year. None of this would have been possible without people sharing their personal experiences with a wider audience. I thank them all for their bravery

And where to next?

And, so, we see a huge change in attitude by employers. We have seen situations where top level executives have been castigated in the press, eventually resigning, for telling staff to “stop moaning”. I wrote about individuals like this in my article ‘How to deal with an Alpha Wolf’ that was inspired by the antics of a certain US president. However, it could so easily have applied to this example. However, it appears that the tide has turned, and now mental fitness is a trending subject and a top priority for organisations.

The next 12 months is going to be the real test as we return to work. Will mental fitness remain at the top of the agenda or is it just a fad? I do hope for all our sakes that it is not. Employers have a responsibility to monitor and help staff where necessary and they need to take this seriously. Just take a look at Timpsons as a glowing example of an organisation who cares. Any company that has a Director of Happiness gets my vote! It is a truly inspirational story.

However, we also have a personal responsibility for maintaining our own physical and mental fitness at healthy levels. We can also help keep an eye on our work colleagues and help them if they need advice or guidance. Remember the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 was about kindness, not just to yourself, but to others. This will never change.

Get close to nature

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is ‘Nature and Mental Health’ and is there is a wonderful short 2 minute video that describes how nature can be used to promote mental health.

Summer is coming, the sun is shining. Call a friend or colleague and get outside for a walk. Enjoy the nature around you and improve your mental health. You never know, by the time you read this you may also be able to give someone a hug!

10-16 May is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. Please visit the Mental Health Foundation website for a wealth of resources and information on mental health for employees and businesses.

If you are suffering from mental health issues, this link provides details on services and organisations that offer help and support directly. Reach out, don’t suffer alone!