How leisure operators can help end the stigma of mental health

Mental health has become more prominent in the media which is improving awareness. However, there is much still to do. The leisure industry has both an opportunity and responsibility to support people with mental ill-health, especially as physical activity is key to mental wellbeing.

Dr Dane Vishnubala, MBBS PGCME PGDipSEM MRCGPDipSEM (UK&I) MFSEM FHEA, is the Chief Medical Adviser for Active IQ, the UK’s leading Awarding Organisation for the Active Leisure, Learning and Wellbeing Sector and was integral to the development of its Level 2 Award In Mental Health Awareness.

We spoke to Dane about:

  • How operators and employers can spot the early signs of mental ill-health
  • The importance of upskilling personal trainers and group exercise instructors in mental health awareness
  • Ensuring good mental health among colleagues and employees
  • Maximising the heightened public awareness of mental health
  • Five first steps to creating an environment that prioritises mental health

How can operators and employers spot the early signs of mental ill-health?

Mental ill-health encompasses many conditions so there are lots of symptoms, some more obvious than others. Anxiety and depression are the most common but, as the symptoms aren’t physical, they are not easy to spot. The better you know someone,
the easier it is to spot changes in their behaviour that may indicate a decline in their mental wellbeing. Do they seem withdrawn? Are they feeling ‘a bit down’? Are they not their usual self? Or avoiding social interaction? It’s important that people throughout an organisation – not just the management or HR teams – stay alert to mental ill-health symptoms as peers who know each other well are likely to notice the signs more quickly in each other.

Why is it important to upskill personal trainers and group exercise instructors in mental health awareness?

PTs and group ex instructors are in the front line in member interactions and will see them regularly week-in-week-out for a decent amount of time. As such, any change in behaviour or appearance will be apparent to them. PTs particularly are trained to build rapport with people as part of their role is to explore and discuss a client’s life, so they may uncover or explore things that no one else has about the person. Being this close means PTs may notice changes before others: this may be from what they say, how they behave or how they look. Spotting the early signs and knowing what next steps to take can give vital support and reduce further deterioration in their mental ill-health.

How can leisure industry operators ensure good mental health among colleagues and employees?

Much of our industry training focuses on how operators can provide a better service for their members and the wider community they serve. However, your colleagues and staff are just as vulnerable to mental ill-health as your customers. Education among staff is key to heighten their mental health awareness: they should be taught to stay alert to how their workmates are feeling, just as much as taking note of how their clients, gym members and class participants are behaving. This is not a ‘nice to have’ – policies and procedures should be in place to encourage staff to look out for each other and to support staff with mental health issues.

How can operators maximise the heightened public awareness of mental health?

There’s no denying that mental health awareness is high profile within society. The leisure industry must take this opportunity to prioritise mental wellbeing among staff and customers. Bringing issues into the open, spotting the early signs and having the confidence to offer help or signpost people is the best way to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health issues.

How can operators create an environment that prioritises mental health?

  1. Promote a culture of openness, team feedback and reflection to aid with managing work-place stress and related issues.
  2. Educate staff in mental health awareness and mental health first aid.
  3. Create quiet spaces where colleagues can take a few moments away from the hustle and bustle of the Centre
  4. Ensure regular staff appraisals give colleagues an opportunity to speak up knowing they can expect full and non-judgemental support to help them with their aspirations, issues and goals.
  5. Work with local mental health charities and organisations to create public facing spaces that promote mental health wellness for members, the community and your all-important colleagues.
Posted in Interviews, Most Popular Interviews, The Fitness Network.