Poor mental health is unsustainable


By Roger Sharp, Chief Sustainability & Corporate Affairs Officer, Bupa Asia Pacific.

For the best part of the past 18 months, along with many other people, I’ve been working from home as a result of COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed in its wake. While this has meant lots of time spent on Microsoft Teams or Zoom, couch-time with my cats and acting as headmaster of my own home school; it has also meant finding the motivation to head outside to go for walks, or a run, to freshen up my legs and my mind.

This has been a significant change of lifestyle for me as I’d normally spend my working day inside our Head Office in Melbourne. Along with the extra legwork, I’ve also enjoyed getting out more into nature, even if the local park is the farthest I can go within my 5km lockdown radius. Seeing the biting winter winds gradually give life to the fresh blossoms of spring is providing simple joys to me and I suspect many other people still in lockdown.

As the world comes together to discuss environmental action during Climate Week NYC, nature constantly reminds me how we need to work together to protect everything it provides us, which we too often take for granted.

For example, there is now considerable research on the relationship between mental health and our planet’s health, including studies outlining the emergence of ‘ecological grief’ and the link between spikes in ambient air pollution and hospital visits for childhood psychiatric issues. This includes data that suggests small increases to pollution leads to a 32% spike in the risk of needing community-based mental health treatment.

Some of these mental health issues appear to stem from a sense of perceived hopelessness, that the tide is turning on environmental degradation and there is nothing one can do to reverse the trend. For me, and my colleagues at Bupa, there’s a growing understanding that this doesn’t have to be the case. As a global health and care company, we know to be a truly sustainable organisation, we need to commit to our customers, our people and our communities to be a part of a solution that helps make a better world.

Our connection to the idea that having healthy people relies on a healthy planet has really developed over the past year at Bupa, and has been brought to life through a number of key initiatives that give our people both purpose and hope at a time when climate change is at a tipping point.

We currently have 42 of our people working on our inaugural eco-Disruptive program that sees teams partner with innovative start-ups and social enterprises to help solve planetary health problems. We’re also supporting new research into the link between environmental and human health, eliminating plastic membership cards and unsustainable shopping bags along with funding community programs that focused on combining healthy lifestyle and sustainability practices. These are just some examples of the work being done, but we all know we need to do more.

So, as I plan my next venture outside for the day following a series of back-back meetings, I feel empowered, hopeful and energised that we’re planning our next sustainable steps towards supporting our fragile and precious environment. The journey ahead of us is long and complicated but I’m certainly up for the fight!