Why Mental Health Deserves More Than One Month

Category: Blog

I’ve been working with teams and organizations for almost my entire career, and I can’t remember a time when helping leaders work through their self-awareness, self-regulation, and resilience-building capabilities was more important.

The pressure to do more with less and continue to meet targets while everyone tries to recover physically, mentally, and psychologically from the pandemic feels overwhelming. Add feelings of anxiety about our future, the environment, artificial intelligence, hybrid work, working from home, returning to the office, and the state of the world; mental stress seems to be at an all-time high. Meanwhile, managers are being ask to be producers, fire fighters, therapists, and leaders all at once. 

According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s survey of workers, 84 percent of respondents said their workplace conditions had contributed to at least one mental health challenge. Another 81 percent reported that they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health in the future. What’s more, at the heart of quiet quitting, says a Gallup poll, is the feeling that employees cannot speak up at work, which doesn’t bode well for mental health.

National Mental Health Awareness month is in May, but we’re experiencing a time when every month deserves this focus. Generation Z is particularly vulnerable because they’re entering the workplace with a desire to be mentored and to benefit from not only formalized training or onboarding but also to experience impromptu, in-between learning moments by the proverbial watercooler. This is a generation that also longs for community at work and without it, is quick to look for the next place of employment to find it. 

It’s hard to know what to do or how to help, but the most important thing is to pay attention enough to notice. We may not be qualified to help someone who is struggling, but if we notice the signs, we can offer an ear or a hand to get some support. 

Knowing someone at work has your back and notices how you’re doing is one of the most supportive things we can do. Mental health specialists emphasize that you don’t need to be an expert to show empathy or interest in how someone’s doing. Asking, “How are you?” and intentionally responding to the answer is sometimes all your colleague needs to start helpful conversation.

Here’s a list of specific signs to look out for at work that might indicate someone needs to consult with their employee assistance program. Remember, these are not definitive proof of mental health issues, but they can be a helpful guide in what to look for.

Signs of anxiety – Excessive or inappropriate worry, difficulty concentrating, impatience, irritability or anger, speeding or slowing thoughts, feelings of detachment or loss of control and easily becoming tired.

Signs of depression –Low mood or sadness, loss of interest and enjoyment in things that the person normally enjoys, decreased self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, thoughts of suicide (helpline: 800-273-8255 in the U.S.), disturbed sleep, loss of energy, reduced concentration, or unexplained aches and pains.

Specific things to look out for at work – Increased emotionality, social withdrawal or conflict with others, increased missed appointments, appearing tired or slow, looking confused at times and having a hard time making decisions, making more mistakes or lagging behind, increased conversations about problems, or signs of substance misuse.

Knowing the signs of mental strain is only the beginning. It’s also important to normalize mental health conversations in the workplace by incorporating them into the everyday culture. Below are several approaches that provide a great start. I also appreciate the Notice-Talk-Act approach that’s recommended by the Center for Workplace Mental Health.  

  1. Model what you want to see. The best way you can create an environment where everyone is supporting one another and making it safe to have these conversations is to lead by example. This can help reduce the stigma and normalize mental health conversations. Incorporate chats about mental health into regular team meetings or check-ins.
  2. Be clear that it’s entirely acceptable—and encouraged—to discuss personal difficulties when they arise. Encourage one another to participate in active and nonjudgmental behaviors that are consistent: eye contact, waiting your turn to speak rather than interrupting, and responding with empathy to validate others’ feelings.
  3. Provide training and resources. When the organization’s leadership puts time and resources toward mental health, it sends a signal to everyone that these discussions are supported. Vet your employee assistance program thoroughly. Know what happens when employees make inquiries. Do they get a live person or a recording? Are the recommended counselors or therapists within the current insurance plan, or are they out of network for some new reason? In short, are there any hurdles to your employees getting the help they need? If so, facing unnecessary hurdles when people are in crisis makes a difference.

The statistics tell us that a majority of employees experience some degree of mental health issues or anxiety. It’s important to pause and take an intentional look at how you support your teams so that they feel fully engaged and able to perform on the job. Let these signs and systemic recommendations help you broach the subject with your colleagues and leadership. Let’s make mental health part of every day, not just the month of May.

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