Our mental health is vibrant, multifaceted and highly individual. We each exist, if you like, along a mental health spectrum and our point on that spectrum can move from day to day, month to month and year to year depending on what is happening in our lives.

Appreciating where we sit on this spectrum, and being self-aware of the factors that influence this, can empower us to manage it proactively. Furthermore, increased awareness of this continuum can equip organisations to devise a mental health strategy that best meets the needs of its workforce. So, how can we measure our mental health, and what are the limitations of traditional approaches?

When it comes to physical health, we’re well equipped to recognise how we’re doing; we’re able to track metrics like BMI, calorie intake or steps taken, and we know the difference in feeling physically well compared to the painful experience of a broken bone. The same goes for our financial health: we understand our credit rating, spending habits, and how much we have at the end of the month. These factors are tangible in our daily lives and the granularity to which we understand them has only increased with the rise of mobile fitness trackers and online banking apps. The insight provided is intended to empower us to make more informed decisions, consciously or unconsciously.

The same does not apply, though, to mental health. Most of us tend not to acknowledge, or feel equipped to recognise, any decline in our mental wellbeing until we reach a point where it’s significantly impacting our quality of life, and this is the point at which we are driven to seek help. This reactive approach is at odds with what the evidence tells us: that early intervention is the best form of intervention.

If monitoring one’s mental health becomes as commonplace as tracking one’s step count, then individuals can not only recognise changes early but can take proactive steps to address problems as they emerge. Proactive management of our mental health is pivotal in driving positive change, so we must not only normalise engagement with our mental health but also encourage the ongoing measurement of it.

Inclusivity is the key to engagement.

Whereas physical and financial health both have accessible means of measurement, the traditional measures of mental health are somewhat limited in application. The gold standard measures of depression (PHQ-9), anxiety (GAD-7), and distress (CORE-34) have their limitations in the workplace, and society at large, because of the over-focus on mental health problems.

The ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy brought out of the negative language used in the assessment process can be alienating, and off-putting to those who might generally perceive themselves as mentally well. It’s therefore not necessarily appropriate to a broader employee audience because, in the assessment of those only in crisis, we continue to drive the stigma separating the mentally well from the unwell.

If we all have mental health all of the time, then we need to take a more inclusive approach to measurement.

If we allow the aspirational and real-time measurement of mental health using principles that go beyond just stress, anxiety and depression, and which consider more inclusive factors like coping, connection and fulfilment, we can increase uptake.

An informed mental health strategy

As an employee, measuring our mental health can increase our self-awareness of feelings and can equip us to understand better how subtle variations can affect our everyday wellbeing.

Tracking these changes over time allows us to identify triggers, and ultimately empowers us to make more informed choices about how best to respond.

As an organisation, appreciating that 20% of employees need support with sleep is just as important as understanding that 2% require assistance with stress; being equipped with such insight enables organisations to invest in the right initiatives while empowering employees to seek the right care at the right time.

We at Unmind firmly believe that “what gets measured, gets managed”. With evidence that self-awareness is key to behavioural change, we can each use mental health data to positively impact not only our own lives but our organisations too.

For more information, see unmind.com