Mindfulness and Wellbeing: A Shift of Emphasis from Treatment to Prevention

9 December 2015
Hitendra Solanki

by Hitendra Solanki

Mindfulness and Wellbeing Adviser for Action Against Hunger UK and the Start Network

In recent years, there has been an awareness of mindfulness-based approaches to stress reduction, along with evidence on its benefits towards supporting personal and organisational wellbeing. In the paper, Mindfulness and Wellbeing, released today, Hitendra Solanki, explores the current wellbeing support available to aid workers and examines the concept of mindfulness, and in particular, mindfulness-based approaches. He discusses the paper in this blog post.

As this paper, Mindfulness and Wellbeing goes to press, the immediacy of the issue regarding the mental health and wellbeing of humanitarian and development workers was once again highlighted in an article published by The Guardian on the 23 November 2015. In the article, a survey amongst 754 aid workers revealed that a staggering 79% had experienced mental health issues. Of these, 93% believed that this is directly related to working within the aid sector itself. How can this be good for our own wellbeing, let alone of those we seek to help?

These statistics closely echo, if not exceed, some of the studies referenced in the paper being published today. It once again highlights and reinforces the fact that we are affected by chronic levels of stress, anxiety, and potentiality for burnout, and that there remains a worrying lack of prioritisation of this critical issue within our sector.

Alarmingly, over the last decade, these studies and shocking statistics have been steadily building to the evidence base now clearly presented in such articles and papers. However, the importance of tackling this growing mental health time bomb within the sector seems to be inconsistent and lacklustre at the very best. The treatment based, ‘catch you when you fall’ model is often the minimal approach taken, whilst a structured and robust preventative approach to mitigate mental health problems is little developed and prioritised.

Given the major organisational impacts for our agencies, at what point will we all awaken to the fact that if studies reveal between 66-79% of our personnel, indeed us, are affected by mental health issues, that something practical urgently needs to be done to finally tackle this?

Inevitably, this has serious implications at both individual and organisational levels, as well impacting on our humanitarian mandate itself.

As such, practical and tangible steps need to be taken now to address the issue. The evidence is clear, the data has reached a saturation point, and we simply cannot keep repeating and publishing such statistics and data without genuine and honest intervention. Clearly, realistic next steps are needed.

The use of mindfulness-based approaches, is not just a fashionable next-step, to supporting staff wellbeing and resilience, but is based on over 35 years of scientific clinical trials and evidence-based benefits from a variety of industries and sectors.

Additionally, in utilising early evidence from piloting mindfulness-based approaches from within our sector, this paper therefore aims to suggest a series of such pragmatic ‘next steps’ that may support our agencies to make a real shift between the current treatment-based ‘catch you when you fall’ model to a more balanced and robust preventative based model that will support increasing the wellbeing and resilience of our personnel’.

Through the kind support of everyone who has contributed in preparing this, this paper, and the suggestions contained therein, are offered in the spirit of making such next steps possible.

Download the full paper, Mindfulness and Wellbeing – Mental Health and Aid Workers: A shift of emphasis from treatment to prevention, from our resource library.