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March Spotlight: Support the Mental Health of Your Employees

Tuesday, March 16, 2021 3:42 PM | Anonymous

Thank you to Samantha Easter for providing our March Spotlight:

Mental health awareness is at a turning point, and few organizations are talking about it—even fewer are doing something about it.

"Although over 200 million workdays are lost due to mental health conditions each year ($16.8 billion in employee productivity), mental health remains a taboo subject, "research from the Harvard Business Review found.

A mental health condition isn't the result of one event. Research suggests multiple linking causes. Genetics, environment, and lifestyle influence whether someone develops a mental health condition, as do stress and trauma.

"Less than half of our respondents felt that their organization prioritized mental health at their company, and even fewer viewed their company leaders as advocate their organization prioritized mental healthcare," found the Harvard Business Review.

Here are some stats to drive home the issue:

·       In January 2021, 41% of Utah adults reported anxiety and or depressive disorder, a share that has been mostly stable since spring 2020. Source

·      Suicide is one of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. and has increased in almost every state over time, making it a severe public health concern. Source

·      Risk factors can include isolation, relationship struggles, financial or housing insecurity, or physical health problems. Source

·      Nearly 60% of respondents experienced symptoms in the past year — while only 20% report managing their condition. Source

·      Close to 60% also never talked about their needs at work. Source

·      When conversations about mental health did occur, less than half were described as positive. Source

As shocking as these stats are, the situation is not likely to get better any time soon. Research from previous disasters shows the mental health impact outlasts the physical implications. This research suggests that the need for mental health support will continue well beyond the pandemic itself.  

Organizations seeking to respond to the crisis need to adjust their strategies to support their younger workforce, who have been more adversely impacted and are generally more open about their needs.  Mental health support should not be relegated to HR; it's also a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issue and it’s slowly becoming its own category within DEI, given its prevalence across all populations.

Research shows that supporting mental health in the workplace is not a matter of throwing money and resources at people. Instead, the most desired workplace resources for mental health are a more open and accepting culture, training, and more explicit information about where to go or whom to ask for support.

So, how do you start to grow this at your workplace?

Improving Mental Health at the Workplace

Start with Leadership

Cultural change needs to start at the top, with leaders sharing their own experiences. Showing the value of openness and vulnerability helps to reduce stigma around mental illness and encourages others to be transparent.

Provide Education for All

Employees – especially leaders – need a baseline of knowledge about how to have conversations about mental health and how to reduce the stigma. Moreover, they must better understand the impact of mental illness, like its expression within the workplace, as well as ways to recognize and respond to employees who may be struggling.

Support Employees

Companies must have some level of mental health benefits and clear communication about those benefits and their confidential nature. Many employees are either unaware of their organizations' mental health resources or are afraid to use them.

When a peer dares to talk with you about their mental health condition, how you respond is critical. You want the person to know you appreciate them sharing while also reassuring them that their job and your perception of them are not at risk.

Tips for Yourself

Be Approachable

Talking about mental health conditions – either your own, from others that you have permission to share, or from even articles you've read on the subject – helps others see you as someone others can trust. 

Acknowledge and Thank Those that Share

Telling anyone about a mental health condition is a vulnerable act. Start the conversation by thanking the person for the trust they have shown in you. Don't make the conversation a big deal, and instead seek to normalize it as much as you can. If you typically have a professional and formal tone, don't suddenly try and be their best friend. Inversely, if you usually have close and friendly conversations, don't get distant and stiff. Treat the person and this conversation the same way you have in the past.

Provide Space and Time

Understand that any conversation about mental illness is potentially emotionally meaningful. So, be sure to give your employee the time to express their needs. Actively listen without judgment. Be aware of your non-verbal gestures to help the person feel comfortable.

Understand Your Mental Health Toolbelt

Some organizations have mental health resource groups. Through health insurance, therapy is often inexpensive and readily available. Many companies also have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or apps available for employees to use. Understand the tools and resources you have available at your company to point employees to will help these conversations be more useful and smoother for all parties.

Make a Difference in Mental Health

The events of 2020 and beyond have brought mental health into greater prominence than ever before. At the very least, the ability to have open and productive conversations without stigma goes a long way to supporting all employees. The good news is that change is possible. Any employee can make a difference in the lives of their peers, direct reports, and leaders by being a support and an ally.

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