We just concluded our 71st Mental Health Awareness Month. Every year in May, the goal is to educate the public, provide support, fight stigma and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.
Over the last couple of months, we have seen and heard the importance of mental health awareness and self-care as the COVID-19 epidemic forced us to deal with the realities of social distancing, remote work and forced isolation. With the summer upon us, the corporate sector has an opportunity to take advantage of a climate for change to meet the demands of today’s workforce.
Now, more than ever, it’s essential to educate managers and employees alike about mental health resources and the importance of nurturing an environment of openness at work around mental health. It’s essential to support any employee’s effort to seek treatment for a mental health issue, but it takes consistent effort and work to change a culture that is supportive to employee wellness and mental health.
Here are four strategies that any size of company can incorporate with little to no investment associated with them, in order to help cultivate a culture of empathy and support.
1) Make sure employees know it’s safe for them to discuss and address mental health-related issues.
• By providing safe environments, both in person and online, to discuss and educate on mental health-related topics, psychological safety and wellness.
• A written mental-health nondiscrimination statement in the employee handbook.
• Allow employees more flexibility in their work schedule who are suffering from grief and loss or a diagnosed mental illness. These can include working nontraditional hours, compressed work weeks and telecommuting.
2) Sharing stories across all levels of personal experience, lived experience (living with a diagnosed mental illness) and recovery.
• This precedent should be set by executives, managers and other company leaders.
• When leaders are vulnerable and share their experiences, or the experiences of those closest to them, it helps create transparency and acceptance at work.
• Sharing stories makes it easier for employees to ask for help when they need it, these stories can help take the fear out of their own disclosure.
3) Educate employees and managers about mental illness.
• Promote mental health through in-service trainings, panel discussions and workshops on mental health awareness and how to recognize signs of stress and poor mental health.
• Train managers and supervisors to be aware of signs of mental health issues and how to respond to them appropriately.
• Strive for a supportive work culture by addressing mental health regularly, using national recognition days and months on the calendar.
4) Make wellness a priority.
• Establish and promote an employee assistance program.
• Encourage work-life balance. Exercise, healthy eating and participation in leisure activities improve mental health.
• Wellness programs can bring employees together and foster a friendly competitiveness in the office.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the workplace is an optimal setting to create a culture of health because:
• Communication structures are already in place.
• Programs and policies come from one central team.
• Social support networks are available.
• Employers can offer incentives to reinforce healthy behaviors.
• Employers can use data to track progress and measure
It’s critical that companies recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health. Companies who invest and prioritize mental health and self-care can help create a healthier work culture for their people, improve employee retention and engagement, and cultivate the type of work environment that will attract top talent.
Ian Adair is an expert in leadership, fundraising and nonprofit management; and a sought-after speaker for nonprofit conferences around the country. He is the executive director of the Gracepoint Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Gracepoint, servings more than 30,000 individuals in our community each year seeking mental health, homelessness and addiction services. To learn more, visit gracepointfoundation.org.