Mental Health in (and out of) the Workplace

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Robert RuthBy Robert Ruth, Vice President & Managing Director, Ashton Tweed and Michelle E. Dickinson, Mental Health Strategist

See this article on LinkedIn.

“One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.”

Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect,” (WHO).

Recently, there’s been a big push to promote mental health awareness in the U.S., and it feels especially relevant during these challenging and uncertain times. Whether you are still in the workplace or are working from home, it’s important for this topic to be approached thoughtfully and tactfully by employers. In order to tackle this hefty topic with some authority, I’ve chosen to partner on this article with my friend and mental health expert, Michelle E. Dickinson.

Michelle is passionate about creating a more supportive and accommodating work environment for people battling mental health challenges, especially depression. She’s an avid mental health advocate, a TED speaker, and a published author of a memoir entitled Breaking Into My Life. Michelle concluded her 19-year pharmaceutical career last year. During her last few years, she volunteered on the Senior Leadership Team of Johnson & Johnson’s Mental Health Diplomats and as a moderator on the peer-peer mental health community 18percent.

“Transforming the conversation is the most important step to cause change and empowerment. Sufferers and caregivers alike need to realize that they are not alone. And that’s where my goal comes in,” says Michelle. She works to make sure that people struggling with mental health challenges stop suffering in shame and silence, especially within the workplace. Companies and managers are typically not trained nor comfortable supporting this vital aspect of their staff’s wellness, but that doesn’t mean that new practices can’t be implemented into their corporate culture and values.

Below, Michelle suggests four ways companies can make a real difference in supporting employees and their mental health, while also helping to eradicate the mental illness stigma:

  1. Provide robust mental health benefits coverage for your employees that includes an easily accessible employee assistance program (EAP). We need to remember that it often takes a tremendous amount of strength for people to reach out for help, so making sure the barriers to care are minimal for your employees is important.
  2. Have the courage to go first and lead the way! When senior leaders start an authentic conversation about mental health it can make a real difference. Storytelling is a great way to engage people about mental health. It’s important to remember that even if your employees aren’t dealing with a mental illness themselves, they may in the future or may be caring for someone at home with a mental illness.
  3. Facilitate a grassroots employee-run mental health resource group in your company for anyone who wants to voluntarily create a stigma free environment. Leaders can better support the emotional wellbeing of their staff by offering support hotlines and resources.
  4. Lastly, it’s imperative for leaders to create a culture of trust. Start by equipping your managers with skills and training so they can better support their employees – people can be trained in emotional intelligence and can also learn to become better listeners. Leaders who are good at cultivating trust and expressing compassion for their employees will stand out. By no means are leaders expected to play the role of a clinician, but simply listening to and proactively supporting their staff can make all the difference.

To take a deeper dive into this concept, check out Michelle’s blog post, “Best Practices in the Workplace.” These tools can be made available to both in-office and remote employees looking for support. It falls on company leadership to ensure that their employees feel comfortable seeking the help they need, which benefits not only the individual, but the entire organization. According to Harvard Business Review, a mental state as common as stress can have an enormous impact on the company as a whole. “Stress makes people nearly three times as likely to leave their jobs, temporarily impairs strategic thinking, and dulls creative abilities. Burnout, then, is a threat to your bottom line, one that costs the U.S. more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal, and insurance costs,” (HBR). Therefore, developing a culture of compassion and acceptance contributes to engaged employees who are likely to be more productive and loyal to your organization.

As we work towards a time where mental health is perceived as an integral part of overall health, make sure your organization is doing its part. Since the workplace is where people spend major portions of their time and energy during the week, this is a critical step to enhanced employee wellbeing. We need to start thinking about the employee that feels the need to put on their “game face” when they go to work in order to hide their invisible illness. People with mental disabilities should receive the same level of support and accommodations as physically disabled colleagues. Furthermore, when we consider the topic of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, employees with mental illness should be a part of that conversation.

Over the past several months of the pandemic, Michelle has been delivering her Protecting Our Happy – Resilience Webinar to companies who are looking to help their employees stay empowered and engaged while being quarantined at home. The webinar has been very well-received, so, last week, I decided to attend one of Michelle’s sessions and see what it had to offer. I found the session to be very interactive and her insights to be useful and instructive. From that program, Michelle shares three simple tips you can follow to re-energize your home office space by playing to your senses.

  1. Change what you see every day: Find a photo or a painting you love to look at and add it to your workspace.
  2. Change what you hear every day: Play relaxing or rejuvenating music to help elevate your mood.
  3. Change what you smell every day: Add a candle or an infuser to your workspace to help boost your energy.

These three things can help improve your attitude and the atmosphere in which you work all day. According to the Washington Post, the coronavirus pandemic will push America into a mental health crisis, with anxiety and depression on the rise. We can and should be doing more for our workforce to help them during and after these tough times.

What mental health policies have you seen implemented in the workplace? Let us know!

 

Feel free to contact Michelle to learn more about her next Resilience Webinar, she’d love to hear from you!

Looking for HR or culture-building leaders to help push this initiative? Contact Ashton Tweed today.

Share your insights! Contact khoffman@ashtontweed.com to contribute your life sciences article as a guest writer.

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