I have a slightly different take than most I hear today about managing mental fitness in the work environment, Arkeo CEO, Jana Dowling, tells us.
I have a slightly different take than most I hear today about managing mental fitness in the work environment.
I don’t talk about mental health or mental wellbeing. I talk about mental fitness. Why? Because people associate fitness being within their control, and it is. Mental wellbeing is associated with ill mental health, and I believe has too many negative connotations for people currently functioning well in life to get serious about.
My definition of mental fitness is; it’s the same as physical fitness but it’s for your brain. We all have it, it goes up and down at different points in our lives and it’s impacted by lifestyle, life experiences and world events.
And as much as empathy and sympathy are great they don’t actually alleviate or change low mental fitness in the long term. What changes it? The same things that changes your physical fitness, understanding what works for you, setting targets and goals and taking action/training. I’ve developed a tracking system that does this called MyArkeo, not originally as a business idea, because three years ago I needed it, and here’s why.
I was working as a Production Manager in T.V and starting performing Stand Up in London. Things were going well in my life. I took a 20 min Stand Up set to Edinburgh festival and when I returned to work I just started to feel bad. I didn’t want to get out of bed, and at work all I could think about was getting back into bed.
Following comments and encouragement from friends and family, I went to see a doctor. I was diagnosed with depression and took the medication I was prescribed. The side effects hit me really hard, my productivity declined at work, so after a week and a half I did what I thought was best and chucked them in the bin.
Six weeks later I spent 5 weeks under 24 hour watch as a high-risk suicide patient. I had a plethora of mental health issues and was diagnosed with BiPolar disorder. When I was coming out of my episode I realised the impact it had on all those around me, my friends, family and work colleagues all experienced it too and it was damaging.
This realisation bolstered me and I decided to take my recovery on like a job and started tracking everything I was doing, my actions, my symptoms, sleep, diet etc. I used the data I was collecting to make decisions. I didn’t listen to my thoughts or feelings because at that time they were wrong. I recovered quickly and was able to return to work. A person I knew gave me an opportunity and supported me through the first stages of being back in the working environment. Shortly after I was back up and running, tracking everything I was doing and in control.
I started to meet people like myself, struggling with their mental fitness, losing jobs or unable to get work so I set up a social enterprise, The 888 Collective. The sole focus was to help people with mental health issues get back into work. We took over a shed in East London, bought a second hand Panini machine and sold tea and toasties together. I taught all my staff my tracking system and it worked. People felt better, more in control and able to manage their low mental fitness symptoms.
We expanded and took the toasties into all the WeWorks around London and I developed a Personal Development and Mental Fitness Management course. I then realised that what I had built wasn’t just for people with sever mental health issues but it worked as a measure for everyone’s mental fitness.
This is how ARKEO came about, fitness for your brain. We have our mental fitness tracking app for individuals and provide a service to organisations so they can support employee mental fitness and ensure their work processes aren’t having a negative impact on staff.
Mental health issues are treated in 3 ways in the UK, medication, therapy and lifestyle. With 2/3rds of the workforce experiencing mental health issues or what I call low mental fitness symptoms, it’s time to focus on managing mental fitness. If we’re going to change the way we eat, sleep, exercise and socialise so we can run a marathon, or get “beach body abs” why wouldn’t we do the same if we want a promotion, change in career or we’re experiencing relationship stress or feeling agitated or irritable?
Our workplaces are responsible for ensuring their environments don’t cause low mental fitness and offer tools to support positive mental fitness like ARKEO, but at the end of the day the responsibility to stay mentally fit lies with us.
ARKEO is more than just tech, we are building a global fitness brand and the measure of mental fitness. Our goal is to empower 1Bn people to actively track their mental fitness by 2050.
1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year
90% people with mental health problems experience some form of stigma, whether from friends and family, at work or in education
Two thirds of people with mental health problems believe that workplace stress contributes to their illness
Source: Time to Change, 2019