Let’s Talk Mental Health!

Have there been times when you or the people you know felt low or expressed strong or unpredictable emotional reactions like anger, anxiety, overwhelm? You are not alone! However, these types of behaviors may indicate that you or the people you know are struggling with a mental health concern and you may not know what to do or say. While there is no silver bullet solution, common strategies that people use to snap themselves out of it are self-management strategies like sleep, meditation, writing journals, positive thinking etc. and a few are comfortable reaching out to peer communities for support. Rarely do people reach out to their superiors at work or seek professional/ Employee Assistance Program support provided by the companies despite spending more time at work (13 years and 2 months in an average life span) than socializing (328 days), according to one analysis from HuffPost Australia. The workplace is the most important environment to discuss mental health and illness, yet it is the last place we expect to hear about it.

Mental health is a going to be the most relevant topic at workplace as 50% of the workforce will consist of Millennial & Gen Z by 2025 and according to a recent survey from Mind Share Partners, half of Millennial and 75% of Gen Zers had voluntarily left roles in the past for mental health reasons. A latest piece of evidence by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) suggests that millennial are more anxious & stressed than their parents. Millennial have lower employment rates, carry the burden of larger student loan debts, and are less likely to own a home than previous generations at the same age. As we know job stress is bad for business and it costs U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs as per a research from the American Institute of Stress, what can companies do to move from Mental illness to Mental wellness at workplace?

While we need the HR involvement to bring more awareness, we also need to re look at some of the existing practices like Employee Assistance Programs as they are not enough to address all the aspects of Mental Health. Employee Assistance Programs have seen the lowest adoption rate in any company as employees are least likely to disclose their mental condition at work or self-identify with mental Health issues because of the stigma attached to it and besides its more work for them than their employer.

Vivek Bapat, SVP, Marketing & Communication at SAP says – “It’s quite unfortunate that when most of us think of physical health, we refer it as fitness. But when we think of mental health, we associate it with illness”. Vivek also adds that the issues surrounding mental health aren’t just generational, but they are equally impacted by social and cultural precedence. What’s deemed acceptable in one part of the world, might not be in another. This makes it difficult to come up with a single solution that can work for everyone across the globe. However, through simple acts of kindness, authenticity and vulnerability, leaders can help create a psychologically safe environment where employees can feel free to express openly talk about what is necessary for them to preserve and improve their mental health in the workplace without risk or fear of consequences.

Mental Health is not just a cultural issue but also a leadership gap. Anna Rowley, Ph.D., a psychologist and millennial well-being expert says “It’s socially acceptable to take a day or two days off for a sick day, but it’s less socially approved to take a day off when you think psychologically or emotionally you’re feeling under the weather or under a lot of pressure or a lot of anxiety,” Culture change like this will start from top down and also from bottom up. Every manager who is leading a team can start with empathy & care as mental health issues don’t often have physical symptoms, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. “When as a leader you admit some vulnerability, it actually helps people see you as more relatable and more approachable,” Patricia Thompson, Ph.D., a corporate psychologist and management consultant says. “It also contributes to creating a sense of psychological safety because if you’re modeling that you’re willing to be vulnerable, then people are more likely to be vulnerable as well.”

Companies can learn from some of the latest trends & research work in making Mental Health a new normal. Based on my research, below are some actionable initiatives that can help build the inclusive culture to demystify the stigma attached to the Mental Health. 

1. Wellness Community: Building a strong wellness community of diverse people who are passionate about personal wellness which includes defining the wellness pillars, designing & offering relevant programs based on the needs of the employees and starting a collaborative channel such as Slack for anyone interested in sharing resources.

  • Physical -Physical activity, health diet & sleep
  • Mental/Emotional – Managing emotions, stress
  • Financial – Financial security/ budgeting
  • Social – Sense of connection and a support system
  • Intellectual – Recognizing creative abilities & expanding knowledge & skills

2. Hear My Story – There’s unfortunately a spiral of silence around mental health, even though 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. will experience a mental illness in a given year. Hear My Story is a confidential forum encouraging people to be vulnerable and share stories if they or their loved ones are impacted by mental illness.

3. Mental Break Days: Creating a safe environment for your employees by making mental health part of the conversations and where they feel comfortable requesting a mental health day at work. According to a survey by Shine, 67% of employees would have an easier time taking a mental health day if company leadership encouraged it and 33% of them feel comfortable taking a mental day break if they knew others are taking it too.

4. Meditation Workshop Series: To learn how to meditate, connect with other practitioners, and develop the tools to integrate this practice into your daily life. These immersive sessions include practice meditation tips, self-reflection, and group discussion focused on using meditation to manager stress at home and at work, build healthy relationships, and maintain a balanced life. A dedicated quiet space/meditation rooms at workplace can also help employees to center themselves anytime of the day.

5. Therapy sessions free of charge (as they are expensive): Group members share concerns, give and get support, and learn from each other. Also employee free sign ups for 15 mins to talk about any topic of their choosing during a 15-minute session with a psychologist at workplace

6. Supporting the mental health of others in the community: How can you help? A panel and presentation to learn about mental health and how you might begin an important conversation with someone who may be struggling by a licensed clinical therapist

7. Reflection Pod: This is to promote a culture of vulnerability and self-care. How it works? Just open the door to the interactive pop-up (I’m proud of myself for…, People may not know that I’m struggling with…., I am working on….) share your thoughts with your colleagues anonymously, walk away with a few resources to help manage your stress a little better, and leave the door open for the next person.

8. Looking at mental health as Integrated wellness: Designing your time workshop: Interactive workshop based on the NY Times bestselling book “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans where employees can learn how to become more intentional about planning their time.

9. Wellness Surveys: Surveys to employees to gain more information on their specific needs – What employees would like to include as part of the wellness pillars, how are they doing on current wellness etc.

10. Tie ups with external partners: Employee discount on Headspace app, retreat centers and wellness studios