Mental health goes far beyond treating mental illness. Mental health includes a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as well as their emotional and social well-being. Additionally, mental wellbeing is dynamic, meaning it is influenced by factors such as their workload, stress, and work-life balance. Because of this, employers must consider strategies that are intended to support mental health. While it is known that the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted mental health, it is just as important to point out that America was experiencing a mental health crisis long before the pandemic. Over the past decade, mental and emotional issues have “increased significantly,” according to research by the American Psychological Association.
The rise is mental health conditions alongside Covid-19 has been labelled as “another health crisis” in the United States. Just this past June, a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 40.9% of the 5,470 respondents reported a mental or behavioral health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or increased substance use. July research from Kaiser Family Foundation emphasized those findings, with 53% of respondents reporting that worrying about Covid-19 is harming their mental health.
As organization leaders, you have probably witnessed the effects of mental health challenges in the workplace, and maybe have experienced your own share of these challenges. Many people are stressed out and burned out. No matter how hard they try to overcome the effects of burnout — and despite the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy companies have embraced in the past — some people just can’t leave their worries at the door. There are still reasons to be hopeful. One is financial: an April 2018 article shared that roughly 86% of employees saw improved work performance, and 80% experienced higher job satisfaction following treatment for depression.
The pandemic didn’t create the mental health crisis, but it certainly exacerbated it, and mental health challenges will continue to impact employees and organizations long after the virus has been managed. But for those in a leadership position, there are a few ways to provide your employees with the support they need at work and in life.
Set the Tone Create a culture where people feel safe and encouraged to seek mental health services. Allow mental health to be talked about openly in the workplace. Sharing your own challenges, normalizing therapy, and destigmatizing mental illness are ways that can make your employees feel more comfortable with having a conversation themselves.
Improve Access Make sure you’re offering the care your people need. Review your benefits package to ensure these services are not unattainable to access due to high out-of-pocket costs or a narrow provider network. There is also the obstacle of simply getting to an in-person appointment. Many people must travel long distances or wait weeks or even months to see a provider. As you work to improve access, you might also consider giving employees access to teletherapy to remove these obstacles and ensure they can connect with a provider quickly and conveniently.
Take Care of Their Families Verify your benefits plan includes the right services for dependents. Even your best employees will struggle at work if there are struggles at home. This is especially true for employees whose children might be facing mental health challenges worsened by the pandemic.
Train Your Leaders Lasting cultural changes start from the top down. Provide training for your leaders and executives so they understand the importance of mental wellness, the signs of mental and emotional challenges, and the solutions your organization offers.
Create an Employee Resource Group Gather help from your organizations front lines to gain a better understanding into the challenges and concerns your employees are facing. Work together to customize solutions that improve employee wellness and create a culture of openness and support — and be prepared to make good on those solutions.
Offer ‘Mental Health’ Days Show your employees it is okay to take a breather when needed. Make it acceptable for your staff to take time off for mental health by building it into your organizations sick-time policy.
While the coronavirus pandemic did not cause the mental health crisis, it certainly has shined the spotlight on mental health issues in America. Today, it is crucial that employers prioritize their employees’ mental health and wellbeing by creating a supportive environment, reducing stigma, making help accessible and training management to connect employees with mental health resources. By promoting helpful programs and communicating openly and honestly, your organization should be able to create a culture that supports all aspects of an employee’s wellbeing.