May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a time dedicated to reaching people across the country through outreach, local events, and screenings. Increasingly, recognizing and treating mental health has become a priority, and high-profile advocates, including star athletes like Kevin Love, urge us to stop ignoring mental health, and start caring for it directly.
There’s no way around it: It’s time to start addressing mental health within the workplace.
Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. The tricky bit about caring for mental health is that the signs that someone is struggling can often be invisible to those around them. It may be difficult for us to recognize symptoms, because they aren’t always discussed regularly, openly or in a positive light. However, like physical health, positive mental health is essential for everyone, and no one is immune.
In fact, an estimated 50 percent of all Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s no small number. In fact, it indicates the likelihood that there are employees in your workforce struggling with managing their mental health on any given day. As most of us spend the majority of our days in the workplace, creating a safe environment for mental health is essential.
There are a multitude of ways to create a workplace that supports caring for mental health, from HR-specific policies to more personalized approaches. Not every mental illness can be treated in the same way, so having a flexible approach will be most successful.
Here are a few ways you can start taking a proactive approach to mental health:
- Talk to your employees. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental illness. Get a real understanding of your employees’ needs and work to address them individually. The solution could be as simple as moving an employee to a desk with more sunlight and less noise. Talk to your employees but also listen. Listening is key to understanding how to help.
- Raise awareness. Many employees and managers may not know how to talk about mental illness. Try sending out educational materials and be sure to include contact information to specialists and professionals if needed to give more context and guidance. If you offer an EAP, be sure to promote it regularly.
- Offer tools to help decompress. In this day and age, work-life balance is a must, but there are still times when it’s hard to leave work at work. Be sure you provide opportunities for your employees to decompress, such as offering a discounted gym membership or quiet corners for breaks. Encouraging walking meetings to get some fresh air may also be a great idea when the weather is cooperative.
However you decide to address mental well-being in your workplace, know that making it a priority is a critical first step in creating a positive, safe environment. This leads to more productive, efficient, and happy employees. There is no greater asset than your own people, and providing them with the right resources will mutually benefit all.
A recent study found that 94 percent of employees agree that extended mental health benefits would help demonstrate an organization’s empathy toward its employees. Showing your employees empathy is a priceless gift. This month, consider assessing your mental health policies – both written and unwritten – to ensure that your organization is doing its best to support employees.
Read our 2018 State of Empathy Workplace Study for more information on why empathy is critical in business today.