Dr Chris Tomkins, Head of Wellbeing

The AXA Mind Health Index: Can we better understand our mind health?

24 March 2022

 

Advances in medicine come from science and observation.  Penicillin was a famous accident that transformed our ability to treat bacterial illness, first from observation then through the application of science.

But what if your branch of clinical practice doesn’t have a pathogen to kill or molecules to track?  That’s our challenge in understanding what good mind health is – the ‘normal’ rules don’t apply.  

 

To use heart health as an analogy, many years ago treatment began after the heart attack.  Today we understand about the importance of cholesterol, diet, exercise, blood pressure… all the leading indicators that predict heart health.  This was pioneered by the Framingham study, following the population of an American town, now in its third generation.

So how to achieve this ambition for the mind?  All the metrics for Framingham and many heart studies since are physical.  Fortunately, we are not alone in this challenge.  Many scientists have been working out the right questions to ask to better understand a person’s state of mind.  We spent the last two years reviewing over 200 scientific papers to understand what is best practice and in particular what characterises good mental wellbeing.

One challenge was to look beyond the constraints of the medical model.  Although we absolutely must understand and provide the right medical and psychiatric care as and when appropriate, for anxiety and depression our strategy should never be to wait for these conditions to manifest before we act.  What if we could equip individuals to act earlier and better understand their state of mind and their triggers?  While there are great question sets proven to characterise depression and anxiety, they are less appropriate for a healthy population and, as we discovered, are a relatively thin slice of the diversity within mind health.

The next challenge was cultural.  If the only way we can understand someone’s state of mind is by them describing it, to what extent are we bound by local subjective perspectives?  This can be variable. That’s been the intention of the AXA Mind Health Study across 11 countries in which we explored people’s state of mind and the factors affecting them. Like the heart studies of the past, we don’t expect perfection on the first iteration.  Despite this challenge we have been pleased with the results.

In the 2022 AXA Mind Health and Wellbeing Study we published the study.  Having developed the Mind Health Index as the core of the exercise, we then cross-referenced with key areas of interest: the workplace, the pandemic and gender. A key finding of the Study was the ten skill areas that help achieve good mind health.   We call this ‘flourishing’.  I won’t repeat the results here but to share a quick summary we see a tremendous opportunity in the role of good work in promoting healthy minds and the gender gap was shocking with women more likely to struggle. 

What next?  This work is just beginning.  Our study will be repeated annually, and we will continue to strengthen our understanding.  We’ve worked with industry experts and leading companies to visit actionable steps we as business leaders could be taking. As a community we have a long journey ahead of before we can really claim to have it all worked out, but we owe it to the many people struggling with mental health to offer solutions today that connect those individuals with the current support they have available, while innovating for even healthier minds tomorrow. They’ll be more to follow on that front soon.

 

 

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