Having a mental health conversation is more than just being open about what we’re feeling. It’s about holding ourselves and each other accountable to do better in breaking down stigmas, especially in the workplace.
Creating a positive work culture of mental health is a key area of change and it’s people like Mike Holland who’re on the front line of this fight.
A hypnotherapist, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) coach and self-development coach for leaders, Holland is the founder of Mind Being You.
We talk about how business leaders can do more for the mental health crisis, why mindfulness is more than just relaxation sessions and more.
What’s your background with mental health and how did you get to where you are today?
When I left school I originally went into law and that was my first exposure to mental health issues. It was seeing people in a high pressured environment but I didn’t think much of it back then.
But it became a growing realisation that there was a total disregard for people’s physical and mental wellbeing and I was also exposed to my grandfather’s diagnosed schizophrenia.
That was weird for me because my grandad was usually a quiet guy and then he would suddenly become extroverted. The family would say he was unwell, but I didn’t get it and mental health wasn’t something I was encouraged to talk about.
My grandad was put in a mental health hospital in London and the treatment was hit and miss because there was so little understanding of what people were going through. That was a wake call to see these people who were essentially locked up in a type of prison.
A couple of years later, I faced my own breakdown and I thought about how can I do something about it and where can I get trained to help others.
What techniques from the business world have you incorporated into your mental health work?
Project management is an important skill to have and it’s about moving from a point you want to get away from to a point where you’d rather be and there are a set of sequential steps.
When I was working in the corporate world I was approached by my boss at the time to work in learning and development and I got to study the psychology of engaging with people in their hearts and minds.
I saw this connection with mental health and it encompasses four energies of emotion, spiritual, intellectual and physical to improve performance in any context. I spent my time in the corporate environment honing my skills in clinical hypnotherapy, NLP, mindset coaching and applying that in business contexts.
There is still a lot that needs to change with mental health and leadership and I think leaders do need to lead by example here.
What practices can directors and owners implement in their business?
There’s a model I use call Future Engage Deliver (FED) and designed by a guy called Steve Ratcliffe. It was brought into Boots, the company I worked for at the time and we’d never seen anything like it.
Boots was a family business and in those days leadership was referred to as management. They would come up with ideas and tell you what you’d be doing. Ratcliffe did the opposite by engaging the workforce with the vision and empowering them to deliver it.
It is about engagement. You have to be engaged with every nuance of wellbeing from mental health to physical. If not, you get found out quickly. So, FED is what I continue to use to build rapport with my clients and motivate them to move from a stuck place.
It’s the same with business owners. It’s making them aware of their responsibility to motivate their people to move forward. It’s not just about financial gain. It’s creating something more than the sum of the individual parts.
In previous conversations we’ve had, you’ve mentioned you’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
What is it about him that has influenced your approach to mental health?
Thich Nhat Hanh was a true Buddhist and is credited with bringing mindfulness into its current format in the west. He trained a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn, who then came up with what he classed as a mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.
That was taken up by professor Mark Williams at Oxford University and he came up with cognitive behavioural mindfulness-based stress reduction. Two very different types of work but both use mindfulness at their core to improve mental and spiritual health.
It’s the simplicity of what Thich Nhat Hanh taught that appeals to me and it’s about being connected to a particular moment in time and seeing it for what it really is. It’s not about looking for beauty in everything you see but recognising that everything has a beauty of its own.
Mindfulness is a different concept from when people would have a 15-minute relaxation session at work. The ask of leaders is a lot greater because it’s about understanding that people respond to different things and mindfulness.
It’s being proved by big players like IBM and Google that having formal programmes of mindfulness in the workplace increase profits.
What are some positive or negative mental health trends you’ve seen develop over the past few years?
The pandemic revealed the massive gap in mental wellbeing in the UK and it wasn’t to do with COVID. It highlighted that people were reconnecting with nature and it would be easy to say that is mindfulness. But it’s more than that.
It’s looking after the four energies I mentioned before and keeping them topped up and nurtured with the right practices. There will always be something missing for people because we’re all different and we’re all searching for the one thing that will make a difference for us.
It’s more than one thing and remembering that even though we’re a society that wants quick fixes, there are no quick results. 80% of people will give up using mindfulness after the first few weeks because they think it’s boring or they aren’t getting anything from it.
Another trend I see is that the NHS is attempting to bring mindfulness in but there is a crisis of mental health for caregivers too. NHS staff are on their knees at the moment and their mental health is shot.
We also see it in business where leaders were taking notice of people going back to work and putting things in place from a health and safety perspective. Oxford University did a study at the end of 2021 and revealed it’s more of an exercise of just ticking a box. You need more than 20-minute relaxation sessions every morning.
I do believe these kinds of mental health conversations have the power to make more people take accountability for their own practices in business and personal life.
What daily mental health practices do you recommend to your clients?
I’m a geek when it comes to this because I can recommend so many. One of my favourites from NLP is if you find yourself thinking in a negative way, imagine a big hand or sign in your head that says stop.
You ask yourself what am I thinking, what am I feeling and what would I like to think instead? That is called a pattern interrupt. It interrupts an old pattern we continually run with without realising it.
The more you become aware of disempowering patterns, the more you’re able to move forward one step at a time. There are no set answers to the questions you ask yourself but it does interrupt those self-fulfilling patterns and is a great way to start the day.