PARTNER INSIGHT: The earlier 'upstream' you tackle poor mental health, the earlier you can prevent it, writes Vitality's director of corporate business
After superstar rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson (yes, I am a fan!) launched our new mental health campaign the other day, my thoughts drifted to the issue of psychological wellbeing more widely.
A keen advocate of adopting a more preventative approach to corporate wellness, the launch reminded me of something Positive Group co-founder, Dr Brian Marien, recently said at our annual Corporate Wellbeing event: ‘The key is to move upstream to see why they are falling in'.
He was referring to a 2008 presentation given by Professor Patrick Remington of the University of Wisconsin's Global Health Institute, entitled Working Upstream in Mental Health. It's a fascinating read, linking poor mental health to poor physical health and exploring how addressing one can improve the other. Essentially, the professor was saying that the earlier ‘upstream' you tackle the potential causes of mental health, the more it would help prevent negative effects on mental and physical health ‘downstream'.
To try and put this into some sort of context, a 2018 report by the World Health Organisation estimates that there are now over 300 million people worldwide suffering from some form of mental health condition. These can vary dramatically from more common issues, such as anxiety and stress, to more severe conditions such as depression, schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder. Therefore, if we take Professor Remington's study as an indication of sorts, it would seem that ‘upstreaming' is the way forward.
The other point I'm trying to make here is that it seems increasingly apparent how mental and physical health are more interconnected than we might initially think. That's why, at least as far as Vitality is concerned, this interconnection between the psychological and the physical forms the very basis of every insurance plan we offer.
In the specific case of workplace wellness, we take it one step further, by also encouraging a whole-company approach. Workplace wellness is as much about the board room as the shop floor - and you need to do it all the time. As Dr Brian Marien says: "Health and wellbeing sit on a continuum. It has to be constant and sustainable. Everyone needs to do it."
Get it right, and well implemented workplace wellness programmes can offer a real competitive advantage. Take our experience at Vitality. We've had a company-wide health and wellbeing plan for a couple of years now. We've worked hard to involve everyone - one small example is our regular Run with Neville sessions, where staff can go for a lunchtime run with our CEO. Great fun, great exercise and very successful.
Reassuringly, from an already healthy start position, the Vitality results so far have been extremely encouraging: we've seen a 46% drop in absence rates for highly engaged employees and a 28% drop in sickness episodes. Health outcomes are also improving: a 7% improvement in nutritional habits; a 15% reduction in smokers and a 33% rise in physical activity rates. It may not be strictly relevant here, but the programme has even led to a 38% jump in lead generation calls from our sales teams.
All of which would appear to suggest there's value indeed in ‘upstreaming'. If you'd like to more on our experience, or how we can support your employees' mental health, drop me a line.
To watch VitalityHealth's latest film featuring Jonny Wilkinson, click here.
 World Health Organisation, March 2018
 Britain's Healthiest Workplace data 2018