We interviewed our new Lead Mental Health Consultant Heather Kelly to find out her take on mental health in the workplace, healthy eating and her all-time favourite dish (a tough dilemma for anyone!)
SW: Could you tell us a little bit more about your journey so far and how you came to specialise in workplace mental health?
HK: I worked for 10 years as a high-risk insurance broker and underwriter. It was rewarding work in many ways but also very demanding and high pressured. I experienced what I would call burn out. The only solution I saw was to leave.
I decided to do a master’s in sustainability and at the end I opted to make a career change. Workplace wellbeing wasn’t a mainstream career option then, I happened upon the field when I took a job at Mind in business development. At Mind I had a chance to work on the concept of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, aimed at improving mental health across UK workplaces. I took on the role of developing and managing the operation of the Index for three years before leaving to become an independent consultant in workplace wellbeing.
Mental health has been an important subject throughout my life. My mother was a therapist and several members of my family have experienced mental health problems which have impacted their working lives. Based on the experiences of people close to me, I feel passionate about this work and about making a difference.
SW: What is your take on nutrition relating to mental health?
HK: I’ve always been very conscientious about both nutrition and mental health but until a few years ago always viewed them as separate. It wasn’t until coming across Dale Pinnock’s book on eating for your mental health that I connected the dots.
When I started educating myself more, I learned about the gut microbiome and the physiological connections between our digestive systems and emotional wellbeing. There was scientific research showing why eating a more nutritious diet supports not only our physical but our mental wellbeing. If studies are proving that it’s possible for some people to manage their mental health naturally and avoid antidepressants, and their pretty rotten side effects, then there should be better public awareness. I see an opportunity here for employers to bring this awareness to their workers, to show that they’re committed to supporting a physically and mentally well workforce. That’s where SuperWellness comes in, they’re the workplace nutrition experts. I feel fortunate to be collaborating bringing our two expertises together.
SW: What is your advice for any organisation looking to put in place a workplace mental health strategy?
HK: My top line advice would be not to see this as a box ticking exercise but rather as a progressive commitment toward positive, proactive culture change for the sustainable benefit of the business, its workers and its stakeholders. In practical terms, this means influencing relevant leadership of the importance of allocating budget to finance a strategy of support. Identifying business risks of not taking the agenda seriously through supporting data and case studies will help.
SW: Are there specific pitfalls employers should be wary of in this process?
HK: Mental health is different for everyone, thus it’s a difficult area to standardise. A one size fits all solution will not work, some initiatives will be more effective with some staff than others. That’s where the importance of a sound strategy comes in, to ensure there is focus and that you’re allocating budget most effectively to support your business culture by offering varied solutions to a diverse workforce. Don’t give up, stick with the commitment and I promise you will see the benefits.
SW: On another note, what is your favourite meal and why?
HK: Gosh this is a tough question as I have so many favourites! I’d say right now my favourite meal is the poke bowl, which is native to Hawaiian culture. Amongst its main ingredients are salmon, avocado, fruit, beans, pickled ginger, olive oil (all of which promote good gut/mental health). I grew up visiting Hawaii often as it’s so close to my home in California and I’ve always loved poke bowls. I’ve seen the dish taking off recently in Europe and I think it’s fantastic as it’s so healthy for us, hitting the target both on nutrition and deliciousness.
Click through to read Heather’s full bio
If you would like to know more about our new mental health consultancy service led by Heather, please get in touch