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World Mental Health Day 2022: An Interview with Dr Vik Mohan

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen how the effects of lockdowns, disruptions to income and funding streams, as well as work plans and schedules have also taken a toll on the mental health of those in the conservation community. This year’s World Mental Health Day calls for making mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority.

We interviewed Dr Vik Mohan, Wellbeing Lead of our ASAP Women in Conservation Leadership Programme, and Director of Community Health at Blue Ventures, about why and how the conservation community should put mental health, wellbeing, and self-care at the forefront of how we manage and lead our terms. 

How did you come to realise the need to proactively support and promote wellbeing (i.e., physical, emotional and mental wellbeing) and self-care among conservation practitioners?

Through my work I began to see a lot of burnout and psychological distress in conservation practitioners. I saw that the people who care most about biodiversity conservation are the people that suffer the most trauma and distress when they witness environmental destruction. We urgently need to support our conservation colleagues to thrive and to continue their important work.

Why is looking after our emotional and mental health so important, and how does this link to our ability to contribute and perform? 

The simple truth is that you can’t pour from an empty cup. We need to be well resourced and to be functioning at our best as a conservation workforce if we are to have a chance of conserving our precious biodiversity. But more than that, our wellbeing matters because we matter. Yes, the challenges we face require us to give all we can in support of biodiversity conservation, but a culture of self-sacrifice doesn’t serve us or our goals.

“The challenges we face require us to give all we can in support of biodiversity conservation, but that doesn’t mean we have to die for the cause. This culture of self sacrifice doesn’t serve us or our goals.”

What are some of the ways conservationists can take care of their wellbeing? 

Deep down, I believe we all know what we need in order to maintain our wellbeing. Let us allow ourselves to listen to and respond to our needs—be they better sleep, a healthier diet, more exercise, time with friends, time in nature, more fun or simply time alone. Self–care is not selfish. You are your most precious asset, look after it!

Why is it important for leadership programmes to include wellbeing and self-care? 

As leaders, the pressure upon us, and therefore the importance of taking action in support of our wellbeing, is even greater. And as leaders we have the opportunity to model good self–care and promote an organisational culture that values and supports wellbeing in the workplace. Imagine a world where the wellbeing of conservationists was as important as the wellbeing of the biodiversity we are helping to protect. As conservation leaders, this is a world we can help to create.

Featured image by Badri Badal

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