Raising awareness for mental health

The burden of planning activities to raise awareness about mental health issues, improving employees’ mental health literacy, and reducing stigma for seeking professional, confidential psychological support for personal and/or job-related problems generally falls somewhat squarely on someone’s shoulders in the human resource department.

Apart from the run-of-the-mill talks and workshops which typically aim to train up emotional resilience and emotional intelligence among employees, it’s not always easy to know what other mental wellbeing activities could be organized for the benefit of employees, as well as stakeholders. The Health Promotion Board‘s “Enrich Your Mind Learning Festival” organized for the 27th of October 2013, Sunday, at Max Atria, Singapore Expo, is an example of how mental wellbeing can be enhanced and awareness raising can be achieved at the workplace. In addition, this free-admission whole-day affair, which starts at 10am and ends at 6pm, offers expertise from professionals who will dispense advice freely about creating the power of attorney and goodie bags for the early birds.

If not to benefit personally from the mindfulness and relaxation training for coping with day-to-day stress and for guarding against dementia through engaging in mentally stimulating activities, it’s fertile ground for social engagement and for building one’s social network – another protective factor against dementia. It’s not a replacement of a good ol’ walk in the park – yet another protective factor against dementia (Fratiglioni et al., 2004) – but it’s a good place to start. Happy learning!

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Financial planning: Making a start

Cost of living is an evergreen issue for individuals working in Singapore. Given that stress from managing personal and household finances not only impacts employee productivity but also one’s health (Garman, Leech, & Grable, 1996), it makes sense (and cents!) to make time for financial planning.

Here are three things you can do:

1. Select your goals
Are you aiming to be debt free, planning on purchasing a new place, putting aside money for your children’s education, building your retirement funds?

2. Review your financial needs
Creating a balance sheet will help you assess the areas of expenses and savings/investment that you may want to work on. Moneysense has a template for both planning a family budget and assessing your assets and liabilities.

3. Find ways to optimize your resources
Creating a budget will help with you track both the expenses and savings/investments that you envisage making. A family budget excel spreadsheet can be downloaded from SME toolkit.

It’s never too late to start!

Financial stress

A recent Straits Times article (“More finding it hard to pay credit card debt”, 24 Sept 2013) reports a rise in the proportion of individuals who had not made a minimum payment of their credit card bill in two months. Housing loans have also been on a steady incline over the last three years, according to an Economist article (“The perils of a gilded age”, 3 August 2013) which cites figures from the Credit Bureau.

Financial stress impacts workplace productivity: Employees burdened with personal financial problems spend time which could otherwise be better spent on work responsibilities solving these problems. It’s not only a question of 1) assessing one’s financial situation and 2) managing available resources, in order to 3) set goals such as setting side a proportion of income for savings and investment – the three steps outlined in the local online financial education programme at http://www.moneysense.gov.sg.

But it’s also a question of setting aside time and making it a priority as part of self-care. As Irving (2012) points out, engaging in positive financial behaviours contributes to life satisfaction and psychological wellbeing. Time spent on financial planning is time well spent!

Managing your family’s finances

While it is widely acknowledged that personal financial problems can be a major source of stress to employees, the provision of financial literacy education at the workplace is typically an area overlooked in corporate wellness programmes.

Concern about personal financial problems explains not only 50% of overall stress levels reported by employees (Bailey, Woodiel, Turner, & Young, 1998), stress from personal financial problems also results in decreased employee productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism. As Garman, Leech, and Grable (1996) suggest, employees may take time out from their workday to deal with personal financial issues, and employ strategies for coping with stress (e.g., smoking) have impact their physical and mental health, and in turn, their job performance. Other findings indicate the prevalence of poor financial behaviours among office workers to be relatively high (Joo & Grable, 2011).

Despite this, financial literacy education has yet to be integrated into local corporate wellness programmes which focus typically on healthy lifestyles. Healthier food (Straits Times, 10 Sept 2013) and exercising at the work station (Straits Times, 16 Sept 2013) are all the rage at the moment. While advice about planning and managing family resources may not be readily available at the workplace, independent financial advice is available at blogs like Dollars & Sense, and financial calculators at Money Sense SG can be useful for sorting out a household budget. And in this day and age, iphone and android apps for managing your money even take the stress out of keeping track of your spending.

With the appreciating dollar, it’s never too late to start making some good financial decisions!

World Mental Health Day 2013

It’s World Mental Health Day! In commemoration of World Mental Health Day, try a self-assessment tool about your well-being:

1. Assess your psychological wellbeing.

2. How is your physical health?

3. Are you psychologically resilient?

4. Are you happy? What’s your life satisfaction score?

Why exercise works

We know the health benefits of physical activity. Better BMI, lower levels of LDL and higher levels of HDL, improved blood pressure and heart rate, more efficient cardio functioning, lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. In addition, there are psychological benefits from exercising. It’s not only responsible for positive outcomes such as lower levels of stress and better life satisfaction in the general population, it’s also been shown to be effective in helping to improve psychological mood and mental wellbeing among those with depression (Ströhle, [2009] offers a comprehensive literature review on the subject).

And we know the health benefits of eating healthy. Health magazines and newspaper articles extol the virtues of making healthier eating choices, while there’s plenty of research evidence that increasing one’s daily intake of multigrains and/or greens plays a protective role against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity.

But knowing and doing are two different things. Perhaps it might be helpful to understand why exercise and healthy eating achieves these things. For one thing, it appears that exercise helps the body process fat more efficiently. A recent news article, “Altered states” (Economist, July 2013) highlights the finding that fats cells of people who exercise behave differently from those of people who exercise rarely (Ronn et al., 2013). For another, increased intake of greens appears to increase gut bacteria associated with healthy metabolism and decrease gut bacteria associated with obesity. The recent news article, “Wider understanding” (Economist, September 2014) explains that a high glycaemic diet impairs insulin functioning, unlike a low glycaemic diet (driven by the intake of multigrains) which in turn is protective against obesity.

But knowing the health benefits of exercise and healthy eating is half the equation: you still have to get out there and do it!