It’s World Mental Health Day on October 10th, and I’m already starting to see brands and businesses launch campaigns and initiatives to mark the day. It’s great—I love it, but I have to ask what happens on October 11th when the LinkedIn posts have dried up and the momentum around mental health day slows down?
Every well-documented study on the subject shows us that mental health problems are on the rise, but employees still feel it’s a taboo subject to bring up at the workplace. It’s even an issue at organisations that boast the best policies. Why? Because companies often equate improving access to mental health resources to success, and they aren’t doing enough to talk about it. How many businesses are truly making room for neurological and emotional diversity? It’s not a lot, I bet.
And not doing this comes at a cost. Harvard Business Review reported that not acknowledging an employee’s mental health hurts productivity, professional relationships and the bottom line: US$17-$44 billion is lost to depression each year, whereas $4 is returned to the economy for every $1 spent caring for people with mental health issues.
Alongside access to mental health resources, what employees need is empathy, flexibility and open-mindedness.
How senior leaders can communicate mental health support
When the CEO or a senior leader speaks out in support of mental health, it sends a clear message of support. It could be as simple as speaking about professional stressors you’re experiencing as a leader, or actively encouraging team members to adopt healthier working habits and more sensible hours. This could look like:
- Senior leaders ensuring new employees are given information on how the organisation manages mental health
- Becoming a mental health champion by regularly supporting and communicating mental health initiatives
- Hosting events or inviting speakers on mental health to breakdown negative stereotypes associated with mental health
Rally and empower your managers
A recent survey of employees in the UK found one third said their line manager or employer had not checked in on their health and wellbeing since the onset of the pandemic.
Any good manager should be in tune with their team’s emotions and well-being, but not all of them are empowered to make a real difference to the quality of people’s lives at the workplace. If you’re an organisation that is walking the talk where mental health is concerned, it’s time to train managers on mental health and stress management, including spotting early signs of mental health issues, and how to have supportive conversations with staff.
Beyond that, there’s a few ways managers can proactively support their teams:
- Familiarise yourself with your company’s mental health policies
- Actively encourage staff to adopt healthier working habits by taking full lunch breaks, using their annual leave, and regularly checking in on them
- Be available to your team, giving them reasonable deadlines and stepping in when necessary to delegate or spread workloads
Effective HR can improve mental health outcomes
In many ways, an effective HR team is key to supporting mental well-being, and ultimately company culture. HR is not only responsible for creating a clear policy to encourage staff wellbeing—but implementing it, too.
- Conduct regular staff surveys and focus groups to take stock and know how effective your mental health support efforts are; address shortcomings with the right measures
- Include mental health check ins as part of performance review meetings and appraisals
- Continue driving awareness through FAQs, blogs, factsheets and by providing regular training to managers
In the spirit of being transparent and open, I will share that as a rookie reporter I once had a panic attack right in the middle of interviewing a high-profile CEO. In between struggling to breathe, sweating profusely and being crippled by intense fear, I managed to excuse myself and went to the bathroom where I collapsed on the floor for what felt like an eternity, before pulling myself together.
Looking back, I wish that 25-year-old had an environment of support around her, and someone to talk to.
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