Mental health awareness begins with your leaders

Like illnesses such as cancer and diabetes, mental health issues have severe consequences for the world’s population. 

Across the globe, support and awareness continue to be encouraged for mental health. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health Foundation raise initiatives specifically aimed at supporting the 1 in 5 people affected by mental illness in their lifetime.

Highlighting these issues during Mental Health Awareness Week provides a dedicated time for advocates across the nation to come together. But it shouldn’t end there. Organizations with strong mental health awareness strategies can work to erase negative stigmas and educate their staff year-round.

With improving the mental health dialogue as a goal, organizations must place significant support behind the proper resources and tactics. Progressive business leaders understand that mental health affects overall organizational health, yet some still struggle to get involved.

1 in 5 people affected by mental health issues in their lifetime.

How can something be a priority if it isn’t an integral part of leadership’s agenda and behavior? Your leaders are your advocates, the voices that lead others down the path of change. Without their backing, the organization as a whole suffers. Mental illness costs the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity, with over 300 million people suffering from depression (World Health Organization).

CEOs and high-level executives must lead by example and engage others in redefining and powering the mental health movement. Leaders can help build healthier workplaces and communities with these three actionable strategies:

Encourage top-down communication

The World Economic Forum projects that mental health disorders will cost nations $16.3 trillion between 2011 and 2030. Organizations absorb a large portion of this cost without any mental health policies in place.

Employees who battle mental health issues bring their struggles to work, often feeling powerless, depressed, and alone. These feelings are made worse when employers neglect to address or even notice declining behavior in their staff. While immediate managers may notice problems like increased time off or lowered productivity, they rarely speak to the employee in question. Instead, they resort to micromanagement and decreased workloads in an effort to re-engage their workforce.

leaders should encourage top down communication to battle mental health challenges

Taking action is appreciated, but to properly assist their struggling staff, the first step is to listen to their needs. Communication is critical and should be encouraged by the executives and leaders responsible for defining the company culture. 

Creating a culture of inclusion, understanding, and support must begin from the top-down. Involved and authentic leadership cultivates a strong relationship between the organization and its employees. By leading by example, executives can ensure that managers and colleagues adopt the practice of listening to staff needs. With the help of a social intranet, leaders can take their involvement to the next level. Participating in forums via the intranet allows leaders and staff to share stories and communicate in an open, non-pressured environment. Employers can also monitor the mental well-being of employees using tools like confidential surveys.

Here employees who suffer from mental health issues can express their difficulties, needs, and potential solutions without fear. With a leader that promotes autonomy and communication, employees are less likely to experience feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, and depression. 

Inspire work-life balance

Adults spend most of their waking hours at work. That’s more than enough reason for employers to start promoting positive mental health in the workplace. 

Many times, the cause behind the mental and physical debilitations is the lack of balance between home and work life. The pressures of balancing office duties, healthy social life, and personal responsibilities can become overwhelming to even the most unwavering person.

Symptoms of poor mental health can be emotionally and physically debilitating, manifesting as decreased work performance, absenteeism, and high turnover. Knowing this, employers must be careful not to take the concept of work-life balance lightly.

inspire work-life balance to offset negative mental health habits

Organizations focusing on positive employee experience and healthy company culture do not force employees to choose between life and work. These two are parts of a whole and should not compete with one another. Ideally, employees should be able to hold the same enthusiasm and engagement in both the office and in their personal lives.  

To assist them in doing just that, leaders and executives must adjust policy to support flexibility. This can be in the form of flexible working hours, extensive PTO packages, or offering the ability to work from home. Providing flexibility in scheduling is precisely the kind of freedom that can lower levels of anxiety and stress in your staff. Leaders that understand this truth will retain diligent, healthier, and more loyal employees that can manage their lives with less pressure.

Employ an effective wellness strategy

Employees suffering from mental illness may be reluctant to share their troubles with their immediate manager for fear of being misunderstood, judged, or punished. This perception reflects poorly on the ability of these managers and supervisors, but the fault lies with leadership.   Without introducing efficient training on the ins and outs of mental health in the workplace, leaders are crippling a large portion of their workforce. 

Training leaders and managers acts to reduce the negative stigma associated with mental health. According to the survey, “Employees’ Perceptions and Attitudes on Mental Health In the Workplace, “40 percent of employees want their employers to train managers and supervisors to identify emotional distress among workers.

The economic burden of mental health disorders is staggering. Giving managers the proper training on how to handle these situations can go a long way in increasing the quality of life for them and their employees. Provide teams with the necessary resources, policies, training forms, and information on mental health can be hosted via an intranet.  

A wellness strategy can help manage mental health issues in employees

42% of employees would like their employers to provide more information about mental health benefits, accommodations, and resources. Informing staff acts as a preventative measure to the risk factors that accompany poor mental health.  Assessing and understanding the needs, desires, and concerns of your employees is crucial in molding an effective employee wellness strategy.

The road to mental health awareness

According to the AHA CEO Roundtable-commissioned survey, 63 percent of employees diagnosed with a mental health disorder said they didn’t disclose it to their employers. Increasing the number of capable leaders can create a workplace environment based on trust and communication. This effectively improves the workplace experience for those affected by mental illness.