Dr Alison Carter: Mindfulness can help support good mental health

With mental and physical health sharing different sides of the same wellbeing coin, it is perhaps unsurprising that organisations ranging from primary schools to the Royal Navy are exploring the potential benefits of mindfulness.

There would seem to be an opportunity to create a culture of mindful awareness within organisations aiming to create health and resilience as a protective barrier against the development of mental health symptoms in future.

Research literature presents good evidence for stress reduction and lowering staff illness among individuals who are already experiencing symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression, by helping them develop strategies and coping mechanisms to address distress and prevent re-occurrences.

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Mindfulness has also been put forward as a means for managers and employees alike to learn skills of self-regulation, attention and awareness, all necessary for the successful adoption of organisational change.

It is important to note that meditation is not the same thing as mindfulness. Flavours of mindfulness that include prolonged periods of mediation are not suitable for everyone and may unearth latent trauma among some individuals. It is therefore recommended to only use properly trained professionals.

Lessons learned from organisational case studies, as published in Mindfulness in organisations in November 2016 by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), which looked at financial services, government, professional and military sectors, concluded that it is possible to introduce mindfulness in a range of areas and contexts.

Common issues that arose were the need to ‘sell’ the concept of mindfulness to decision-makers, use language acceptable to the intended audience, have a rationale for the leaders and employees being targeted, and select a delivery format that fits the working patterns of the workforce.

Another lesson centred on the need to provide ongoing support for trained employees to help them to keep practicing their newly acquired mindfulness skills, as practice is the key to getting the benefits, and to provide a place for said practice. This latter point is especially important if the flavour of mindfulness includes meditation.

Dr Alison Carter is principal research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES)