Embedding mindfulness tools into private healthcare is changing the way we support mental health
Over the past few years we've seen attitudes and openness around mental health transform, making it no longer the taboo subject it used to be. More people than ever before are seeking help when they feel they need it and there has never been greater acceptance within society that mental health is a condition that can affect anyone.
This has been helped over recent years by the open and active support from well-known figures such as the Royal family openly discussing mental health and the charities that support it. Earlier this month rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson sought to address the fine line between feeling well and feeling overwhelmed as part of a Vitality campaign, where he shared his own personal challenges around mental health in a bid to encourage people to seek support when they need it.
This must be a good thing given last year's Britain's Healthiest Workplace (Vitality, 2018) research revealed approximately 60% of UK employees surveyed were suffering from either work-related stress or depression, truly highlighting the scale of the problem facing the UK at the moment.
With more conversation around mental health, coupled with a rise in people seeking treatment, we have seen a much needed boost in mental health support and the range of clinical options available to those that needed it. And insurers have rightly stepped up too, with a range of different plans and policies available, ranging from counselling to in-patient treatment.
It's not only those with a clinical diagnosis that are looking for support though, and we're increasingly seeing people using different techniques to manage their everyday mental health, rather than waiting for a crisis to happen.
"In the past few years I have seen the way most of us approach our mental health change, with people now more aware of how they are feeling and actively trying to support their mental health themselves before they visit their GP," says Dr Roshane Mohidin, a GP in Wandsworth and member of the Vitality Clinical team.
Mindfulness is one area people are turning to, with many people reporting significant benefits from making it part of their everyday lives*. But what is it? The charity Mind refers to mindfulness as taking a special effort to notice what's happening in the present moment (in your mind, body and surroundings) - without judging anything. It is thought to enable people to become more aware of their thoughts and feelings and therefore better able to manage them.
The popularity of mindfulness has been accelerated via the emergence of mindfulness apps such as Headspace, Buddhify, Calm and The Mindfulness App now available for download on most smartphones. They're easy to access, use and fit around our busy lives. Apple Watches even have a breathe app on the watch as standard that reminds you to take time to breathe every day.
"Mindfulness applications used on the go are increasing in popularity and recent studies have shown that use of them can reduce work-related stress and improve overall wellbeing**. Whilst not traditionally used, or felt appropriate, for people with serious mental health conditions, in certain clinical scenarios the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as a way to prevent depression," Mohidin continues.
Insurers have responded to this too, with Vitality now offering access to many mindfulness apps, including a discount on leading mindfulness app, Headspace, to its private medical insurance (PMI) members. They have also made it available to some of its life insurance members. In fact, Vitality members clocked up 200,000 mindfulness sessions on mental health apps in a six month period earlier this year.
But it's not all plain sailing. Whilst societally we have come along leaps and bounds when discussing mental health, recent research (Vitality and Censuswide, 2019)* found people still have a personal stigma attached to using mindfulness apps. In a survey of 1,006 UK adults who practice mindfulness, almost a fifth (19%) kept their use of the app secret for fear of being judged by friends or family. That was despite 86% of these people believing mindfulness apps had been effective in improving their overall mental wellbeing. The research also found that 15% of these people said that their partner did not know they used a mindfulness app.
"Despite mindfulness being something many people use regularly and so many reported benefits, it is really concerning to see how many people are embarrassed to admit they use these apps," says Melissa Britton, a positive psychology practitioner at Vitality.
"We all need to keep fighting this and breaking down the barriers that stop people getting the mental health support they need, whether that's mindfulness apps, CBT or therapy. There is nothing shameful about this type of support, it should be a normal and accepted part of everyday life."
Overall we have seen a complete transformation in how we perceive and understand mental health over recent years and the growth of tools such as mindfulness apps has been transformative for many. Embedding these tools into private healthcare options, alongside giving people the clinical support when people need it, as Vitality has done, is incredibly powerful and will continue to be beneficial to many people for years to come.
*Vitality and Censuswide survey 2019