Ministry of Defence offering yoga and ‘lived experience’ workshops to improve mental health

Despite efforts to improve staff mental wellbeing, mental illness is the main cause of sick leave within Strategic Command

2nd July 2024 about a 3 minute read
“It is also alarming to see that a staggering 44 per cent of staff never discussed their wellbeing with their line manager or only did it annually.” MoD report

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is offering staff activities to improve their mental wellbeing – including menopause yoga and lived experience workshops.

General Sir Jim Hockenhull, commander of Strategic Command, which leads the UK’s defence strategy, has written a letter to staff to inform them about the MoD’s “Op Inclusion” strategy for 2024. The letter, reported in the Telegraph, told staff that their “inclusion reps will be sharing details of how the sessions will run in your local areas”.

The MoD’s wellness programme seems to be an attempt to address the growing problem of mental ill health in the services. In 2023, the MoD found that “anxiety, depression and stress” was the main cause of sick leave within Strategic Command, representing close to a third of all cases. This was followed by coughs, colds, flu and asthma (11.8%) and muscle and bone disorders (9.8%).

Sharing information from last year’s inclusion programme, Hockenhull said that “70 per cent felt you had a better understanding of how you can create a psychologically safe environment for yourselves and others following the sessions you attended”.

Two documents were shared with recipients: “Diversity and inclusion 2022-25 – one-year report” and “Wellbeing 2023-27 – one-year-on report”.

The Wellbeing report showed that in February the MoD promoted mental-health first aiders and offered a workshop by Headspace, the company marketing the well-known mindfulness app.

Other events throughout the year included nine workshops for “stress awareness month”, an “annual mental fitness brief (mandatory training for all)”, “menopause yoga” and nine mental health workshops “including lived experiences and workshops from external organisations”.

Cost of mental illness has increased to more than £3m

Strategic Command said that the “cost of anxiety, depression and stress-related illnesses” has increased to more than £3m at the end of December, up from £729,535 compared with the same time last year.

Referencing a 2023 staff survey, it said that “only 40 per cent of staff discussed their personal wellbeing or work-related stress with their line manager weekly or monthly, which is 19 per cent down on the Civil Service benchmark.” It added: “It is also alarming to see that a staggering 44 per cent of staff never discussed their wellbeing with their line manager or only did it annually.”

The report also said that it intended to “focus on initiatives to increase our diversity across the Command – removing bias in the process.”

An emphasis on mental health is increasingly seen as an important part of keeping staff well in the armed forces. The RAF, for example, offers both virtual and face-to-face mental wellbeing courses for non-serving members of the RAF, including partners, parents, brothers, sisters and children of anyone serving in the RAF, as well as all RAF veterans and their families. It also runs a Finding it Tough? course for serving RAF personnel who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

FCC Insight

The Ministry of Defence’s focus on the mental wellbeing of its staff is welcome, and it would be good to see more employers following suit. Nonetheless, the very high rate of staff absence attributed to depression, anxiety and stress – representing a third of all sick leave absences – is worrying, and suggests that there are cultural problems in the workplace that need to be addressed. Workshops on yoga and mindfulness are not necessarily effective if there are fundamental problems in an organisation that lead to staff taking time off with stress.