Now November has well and truly passed and numerous glorious Mo’s are shaved off it is a good time to think about our mental health. Not just the mental health of our men and not just the mental health of those who are struggling with ill-health. It is a good time for everyone to think about our mental health and how we might be able to influence it.
December is a joyful month for most. It is also a challenging month for many: sales targets; loss of routine; excessive socialising; the pressure to be happy; family; loneliness for some. Therefore going into December with our mental reserves fully topped up is essential. Here is simple idea that can help you do this.
The Mental Form Score
I have been tracking my mental health score for many years. It was a tool that a therapist gave me to help me manage my challenges with bipolar disorder. It has been immensely helpful over the years. It is a simple score “out of 10”. At the time of writing I am a 9/10. This means that I am on exceptional form, or I have very positive wellbeing.
In this article I discuss how I use the mental form score; the insights from sharing it publicly and the grand ambition to create a movement.
Why track my score?
The purpose of the score is to generate self awareness and look for trends. Tomorrow, if I am an 8/10, this is fine but I will note the drop. If the day after I am a 7, then I will ask myself “why is my form dropping?” If I then move to a 6 the following day, I really want to know what is going on: Am I getting enough sleep? How well I connected to family? Have I exercised regularly enough? Am I balancing stress with recovery?
At this point I will try to make tweaks in my life and work to prevent the score further dropping because if I get to a 4/10, I am in bed with depression and I am not doing my job and not looking after my children with my #wife needing to pick up the slack.
I have frequently been able to nip these trends in the bud and prevent myself falling into distress. Not always, but frequently. This has been an invaluable tool in how I manage my mental health challenges but also proactively management my wellbeing. End of story?
Sharing my score
A few months ago, I thought that it would be an interesting experiment to start sharing my score. My initial motivation for this was to use it as a tool to help with my mission of #SmashingTheStigma of mental ill-health. So, I started posting my score in my email signature. Here is one selected randomly:
"My Mental Form Score is 8/10 today – I am on good form. Juggling parenting and work over the next few days (which is always quite stressful) so please do not be alarmed if your receive this email at an unorthodox time of day. How are you today?"
This had some interesting and, at times, unexpected effects. Here are a few observations:
The moment of self reflection at the start of the day became a really powerful moment for me. A self check in. Previously my score would come to me at some point during he day. Now, I need to know where I am at before I send my first message.
People commented that they look forward to receiving an email from me because they want to know the score. Why is this? I have a few ideas which I will discuss below.
People reciprocate at times and spontaneously share their scores back. Sometimes this is with people I am yet to meet. This generates meaningful human connection (over email).
If I am low, people check in with me and offer words of empathy and encouragement. Sometimes this is all I need to see the form lift a point or two.
“My Mental Form Score is 6.5/10 today – I am struggling with my form a little. Like a lot of people towards the end of the school holidays, I have found the last few days of juggling parenting and work difficult, despite having some support from my parents. I am looking forward to getting back into a routine. How are you today?”
In his book, “Lost Connections”, Johan Hari points to the loss of community and poor social connections as a cause in the rise of common mental ill-health conditions. I have a strong sense that sharing the score can also be a means of generating human connection.
I do a lot of keynotes for brands and conferences. When I ask audiences to share their score with each other I am consistently blown away by the levels of engagement and the energy in the room. Here is the thing:
The act of taking notice of self and simply sharing our mental health score has the potential to lift our mood.
I have seen this happen in practice and invite you to try it at the start of meetings or with a friend (if you feel comfortable doing so, of course). So, I am now ready to release my methodology and a very simple tool to help you use the score.
I’d love to see more CEOs and those in positions of leadership come out and talk about their mental health.
HRH THE DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE, WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM, DAVOS 2019
A note on risk and duty of care
In my experimental posts on LinkedIn, there has been some healthy debate on the score. The main areas of concern are around whether there are any risks with people using my scoring tool and whether the option of posting them can cause problems in itself.
I have taken advice from a consultant psychiatrist and some other knowledgeable people and feel comfortable that the tool will not do harm in the first instance. People can choose whether to use it or not and choose how they share their scores, if at all. From the response I have received to the score, I am confident that it will encourage people to be more aware of their mental health and how they might focus on proactively improving wellbeing.
As mentioned, I have been doing this for years in my head but have recently formalised the questions I ask myself. I have been influenced by a number of things in coming up with this framework including PHQ-9, GAD-7, The Warwick-Edinburgh Scale, The Five Ways to Wellbeing and (declaring an interest) the BetterSpace Wellbeing Assessment. However, it simply works for me and I believe there is enough in there for most in terms generating a simple mental form score.
The 10 Questions
How motivated do I feel today?
What are my perceived energy levels?
How easy or difficult do simple tasks feel to me today?
How well have I slept in the last 3 nights?
How is my physical health today?
How purposeful do I feel?
How connected am I to friends and family?
How has my nutrition been over the last 3 days?
How are my stress levels and am I balancing this with recovery?
How easy or difficult is decision making for me today?
I ask these at the start of the day and prior to sending out my first message.
My subjective guide on what the scores mean for me:
10/10 – All-time lifetime peak form
9/10 – Exceptional form
8/10 – Very good form
7/10 – Decent form
6/10 – Average form
5/10 – Low mood
4/10 – Very low mood
3/10 – Extremely low mood
2/10 – I am struggling and need help
1/10 – Crisis, please reach out to me
Clearly these are subjective and open to interpretation. I believe that I will only be a 10/10 a few times in my life. When all of the stars align. I mostly move between 6 and 9/10. Occasionally I drop to a 5 or a 4/10. Below that, I would be seeking urgent professional help. The mania element of my cycle can boost form at low levels and reduce it when experienced more strongly. However, this tool as a subjective assessment of form and not a medical diagnostic tool and should not be treated as such.
Sharing the tool
So, here you go. I am putting it out there for people to use the tool and access the social badges. Use this linkto access the tool. Please use it as you see fit on both a personal level; as part of your team meetings or at the kickoff of projects.
I would like to invite you to share your score on World Mental Health Day – 10 October (only if you feel comfortable). Can we share the idea and create a global movement of people who are prepared to be open about their mental form on this day?
And then can we do the same on the 1st of each month thereafter..?
"My Mental Form Score is 9/10 today – I am celebrating exceptional form for an unprecedented 3rd day in a row. After an uplifting event and a late return home yesterday, I prioritised sleep over exercise this morning. It was the right decision. How are you today?"
(28 NOVEMBER 2019)
How do you create a movement?
Well, the generally accepted principle is to take your shirt off and dance alone in a field at a festival. Well, right now my shirt is off and I am dancing on my own feeling pretty vulnerable. However, as Derek Sivers so eloquently describes in his TED Talk, it is the first followers who truly create the movement. So who is with me?
The Form score is currently being developed into a dedicated App and Organisational Dashboard.
Speaking of TED Talks.. I am an international keynote speaker who is yet to deliver one. I have been waiting for the right subject matter. I genuinely believe that I might have found the material. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Use thislinkto sign up to hear about the developments of the App.
Thank you and be well, Rob
Rob Stephenson is a mental health influencer, campaigner, Board advisor and public speaker with the mission of inspiring the creation of mentally healthier workplaces. He experiences bipolar disorder personally.
Rob is the founder of Inside-Out.org which publishes the InsideOut LeaderBoard, smashing the stigma of mental ill-health by showcasing senior leader role models with lived experience. He is also the bloke asking the question “How are you today?”