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May 5, 2015

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Mental health: where does body end and mind begin?

by Kate Cook

Mental health has traditionally been swept under the carpet in industries such as construction Mental health issues are difficult to identify as there are often no obvious symptoms that are visible.

The HSE defines mental health as “how we think, feel and behave”, with the term “common mental health problems” (CMHPs) used to describe the difficulties that are most prevalent and can be successfully treated by GPs rather than by specialists such as psychiatrists. HSE notes that one in four people in the UK experience a CMHP in their life.

CMHPs include anxiety and some forms of depression. Anxiety is defined by the NHS as “an unpleasant feeling when you feel worried, uneasy or distressed about something that may or may not be about to happen”; while depression is defined as “when you have feelings of extreme sadness, despair or inadequacy that last for a long time” (Buildings Magazine, 2014)

In an environment such as construction where there are deadline driven targets that put workers sometimes under intolerable pressure, and where a male dominated workplace might prevent those feeling under pressure from seeking appropriate help, many suffer in silence, sometimes with tragic results. It can be that workplace stress can be the trigger that tips workers over the edge and into a place where they might not be able to come back from. According to an article published by Buildings Magazine last year, commenting on findings of a 2007 HSA study, 88 per cent of those working in construction experienced workplace stress and a study by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB, 2006) found that 85 per cent felt the industry did not do enough to address mental health in the workplace.

Often the symptoms of mental illness whether it be serious or CMHP are only addressed from a psychological perspective. Two-time Nobel prized winner Dr Carl Pfeiffer noted in his book “Mental Illness – The Nutrition Connection, “One of the greatest shortcomings of human logic is the unquestioned belief that psychological problems, be it of behaviour or intelligence, are influenced only by psychological factors and that physiological factors are only influenced by physiological factors. This presupposes that mind and body are separate, that the energy of the mind and body are two different things. Psychological stress makes muscles tense. Ask a chemist, an anatomist and a psychologist to define where the mind starts and the body ends and they will find that the two are intimately interconnected”

Addressing mental illness has to begin, I believe, with a strong foundation of optimum nutrition and making sure that we are addressing mental health holistically – i.e. looking at the physical causes (being sub-nourished) and addressing the fallout of physical ill health which impacts the mind by tackling how we deal with an ever more stressful working environment and putting in the appropriate support before it’s too late.

Kate CookKate Cook is a nutrition and wellness expert and an international speaker. She is also founder and director of the Harley Street clinic The Nutrition Coach. Her clients include the Bank of England, JP Morgan, Network Rail, Abellio, Skanska, Gardiner and Theobald, and EDF Energy.




What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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Paul Prosser CMIOSH
Paul Prosser CMIOSH
9 years ago

Kate’s artical confirms what I have always thought to be the case, that the body and mind are inextricably linked to nutrician. In my mind, the performance you get out of mind and body is linked to the quality of the fuel you put in

Justin Price
Justin Price
9 years ago

With poor diet being synonymous with construction workers (even though some green roots of change have occurred in recent years) this is an avenue definitely worth exploring in greater detail.