I’m often asked about the sort of processes that I think organisations should have in place to support good mental wellbeing.
My response is that this isn’t about processes. It’s about conversations. Good, meaningful, supportive wellbeing conversations.
The focus of my talks, workshops and coaching is on the wellbeing conversation. And there’s one small tool that can make a MASSIVE difference when it comes to having a good, effective conversation about wellbeing.
That’s the Wellbeing Card.
I’ve written elsewhere about how wellbeing conversations often get stuck in the (medical) label for the condition, the complexities of that condition, the awfulness of the impact of the condition and the emotional outcomes for the person who has the condition.
Wellbeing conversations need to cover these things to some extent. But I know from my own experience that this type of conversation often doesn’t result in people getting the support they need. And quite often they end up with stigma instead. So. Not a good outcome.
A more effective wellbeing conversation at work, university or school focuses also (and mainly) on the practical things that might increase the individual’s challenge (their Triggers), the things that would help them manage their challenge better (their Resilient Resources) and their undoubted Talents & Abilities.
So, for me contrast these two conversations. The first, in which I talk about the death of my son, Theo. The awfulness of the flashbacks to that time in my life. The terrible hyper-vigilance that I now suffer on a daily basis as my brain anticipates the horrors of new traumas. And the impact of all of this on my sleep, my levels of anxiety and so on.
The second conversation reveals that the Triggers for my condition being worse at work are (a) when I have lots of different things going on at the same time; (b) when I have to stay away from home; and (c) when people aren’t open and honest with me. Conversely my Resilient Resources are that I can better manage my condition when: (a) I’m given autonomy to manage my day so that I can work through the day calmly, doing things one-at-a-time; (b) I can work flexibly and commute even long distances, so that I can return home; and (c) I get clear, open and honest feedback.
That first conversation is emotional, somewhat negative to the person listening, it’s medically complicated. It gives them nowhere to go and no idea what to do. Unless the listener is medically trained, they probably haven’t a clue how to help someone with PTSD and depression.
The second conversation is more practical. It makes a clear statement of the sort of environment that causes me difficult and the sort of environment that I work well in.
This is where the Wellbeing Card comes in. It’s such an effective tool that I use it with my clients in coaching, I promote it in my talks and workshops. In fact, it’s so simple that if you send me your details, I’ll make you a card for free. Just mail me at email@example.com.
When I coach, one of the outcomes from coaching is for the individual to get a clear sense of what their Triggers, Resilient Resources and their Talents & Abilities are. They can then take this into conversations with line managers, tutors, friends, colleagues, fellow students and so on. We can put this together on a Wellbeing Card, just like the sample one you see above.
Developing your Wellbeing Card is something we can all do. Sometimes it takes a coaching conversation to help make this happen, sometimes we can get there with some personal reflection and thinking time.
Getting it written down and available is, I find, really helpful — because in the heat of the moment, a stressful situation, or at a time when our challenges are dialled-up high, our thoughts might be jumbled. The Wellbeing Card forms a useful prompt to make sure the conversation doesn’t just focus on the awfulness of the present moment; but on the constructive things that someone can do to support our resilient resources.
As I say, if you’d like your own Wellbeing Card, I’ll create one for you (it’s totally free, I don’t put you on a mailing list or contact you for any marketing purpose later). Just provide the information you want on the card (following the example of the sample attached) to firstname.lastname@example.org I will email you back with a jpeg image of your card. The card is then yours. You can print, keep it with you, add it to an email, send it to someone or whatever.
Even if you don’t do this, take some time to reflect on what your Triggers, Resilient Resources and Talents & Abilities are. This doesn’t just apply to defined mental health conditions. It applies to our wellbeing generally. We all have mental health and we all need to look after our mental health. These tools go a long way to achieving just that.
I wish you well — Jonathan Phelan
About Jonathan Phelan
Jonathan runs Evenhood; a social enterprise dedicated to improving mental health outcomes in workplaces, universities and schools.
He is the author of “The Art of the Mentally Healthy Conversation” which tells the story of how Jonathan learned how to manage the challenge of a mental health condition following a child bereavement. The book helps the reader discover how to have mentally healthy conversations, which are more likely to result in support, rather than stigma. It also promotes the benefits of workplaces, universities and schools nurturing a culture in which it is normal for people to talk about their mental health and to offer mutual support for wellbeing and resilience.
Jonathan has held a senior leadership position in a large financial services organisation since 2004, with a long-term career in law, law enforcement and consumer protection. When he went through the trauma of a child bereavement he gained an insight into the obstacles people face when they have mental wellbeing challenges. More importantly he learned how to overcome those obstacles by improving the way we talk about our wellbeing and resilience.
Through his talks, workshops and book Jonathan shares his personal story. Using the drama of how mental health has been portrayed in film, and his own particular take on how our brains process information, Jonathan guides the listener to discover more effective ways to talk about mental wellbeing.
Jonathan also promotes the concept of mutual support for wellbeing; based on the belief that we should all aim to make it normal for people to talk about their mental wellbeing, just as we are already willing to talk about physical wellbeing.