A guest article by Megan Pinfield, Senior Advisor, Workplace Mental Health, Human Resources
At UBC, we focus a lot on wellbeing through and through support for the Okanagan charter. Our president has expressed his support for campus-wide wellbeing, especially in areas relating to mental wellbeing. But what is wellbeing? What does it mean to be well?
Most of us know how to keep physically healthy through diet, exercise and good sleep habits. We are also aware of how we feel when our relationships are not satisfying or we are having interpersonal challenges at home or work.
How many of us consider taking care of our mental health on a regular basis? We should be taking equally good care of our mental health as we do our physical health and our social health because our mental health affects both.
Our mental health affects our physical health in startling ways. Studies have shown that people with untreated mental health problems visit a medical doctor twice as often as people who receive mental health care. One study of people with anxiety disorders showed that after psychological treatment, the number of medical visits decreased by 90% .
Excessive anxiety, depression and stress can contribute to physical problems such as heart disease, ulcers, colitis, headaches and musculoskeletal problems. Anxiety and stress can also reduce the strength of the immune system, making people more vulnerable to conditions ranging from the common cold to cancer.
Our mental health also affects our ability to interact with others in effective ways. When we are depressed, stressed or anxious, we are more likely to feel irritable, frustrated and intolerant.
The biopsychosocial model of health and illness is a framework developed by George L. Engel (1977) that explains wellbeing as the complex interaction between the biological, psychological and social aspects of our lives. The biological aspect includes things like our genetics, nutrition and heritable illnesses. The psychological aspect includes our thoughts, feelings and behaviors and the social aspect contains things like our relationships with others, cultural factors and the environment we are in. This model says that all three of these factors interact with each other to produce either wellbeing or illness and all three are equally important to maintaining wellbeing.
Being mentally well is not the same thing as being free from mental illness (www.heretohelp.bc.ca). Just because someone doesn’t have a diagnosed mental illness, does not mean they are feeling well or coping well.
Mental wellbeing is the combination of:
- How you feel about yourself, the world and your life
- Your ability to solve problems and overcome challenges
- Your ability to build relationships with others and contribute to your communities
- Your ability to achieve your goals at work and in life
Three Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health
Take care of your body: regular exercise reduces symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety
- Learn about physical wellbeing
- Discounts for UBC employees on physical activities
- UBC walking groups
Ask for and offer help: Assess your mental health from time to time and ask for help if you need it. Learn to recognize when someone else may be having problems with their mental health and assist them in contacting resources for support. Helping others boosts your self-esteem and improves resilience.
- Mental Health online assessment tools
- Access counselling services through UBC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program provided by Shepell for staff, faculty and their eligible dependents.
- Receive counselling services from a Registered Psychologist, Clinical Counsellor or Social Worker of your choice. You (and your eligible dependents) may be reimbursed under UBC’s Extended Health plan for 100% reimbursement of reasonable and customary charges, up to a maximum of $2,500 per person per year. No doctor’s referral is required to access this service.
- Learn how to help staff and faculty in distress
Have some fun: Do something you are passionate about once per week. Having interests that are all-consuming and that we can “get-lost-in” bring us into a mental state of “flow,” which increases happiness and creativity. The more “flow” we have in life, the happier we are .
 Cummings, N.A., Dorken, H., Pallak, M.S. et al. (1990). The impact of psychological intervention on healthcare utilization and costs. Biodyne Institute, April 1990.
Boundless Psychology Boundless, 20 Sep. 2016. Retrieved 23 Jan. 2017 from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/stress-and-health-psychology-17/introduction-to-health-psychology-85/the-biopsychosocial-model-of-health-and-illness-326-12861/
Lechnyr, R. (1992). Cost savings and effectiveness of mental health services. Journal of the Oregon Psychological Association, 38, 8-12
Borus, J.F. & Olendzki, M.C. (1985). The offset effect of mental health treatment on ambulatory medical care utilization and charges. Archives of General Psychiatry, 42, 573-580.