National statistics highlight that at least 1 in 5 adults will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder in a given year (SAMHSA.org). Of those, more than half will go untreated. We expect our team members to show up to work everyday and provide excellent customer service and to “leave their problems at the door”. But this is often an unreasonable expectation because so many folks have no idea how to even begin coping with their problems. Folks spend so much of their time at work that it’s only logical to think about how much their mental health might influence their performance.
For any leaders who think that the mental health of employees isn’t their problem, keep reading. Research has shown that more than 80% of individuals who are treated for mental health symptoms reported a higher level of work satisfaction and efficacy. That’s huge! And even better than that, when employees are able to effectively address their mental health problems, it can be enormously beneficial to their organization's bottom line. When employees receive effective treatment, it results in lower absenteeism, lower medical costs, greater productivity and decreased disability costs (Source: workplacementalhealth.org). This all sounds great for business!
So why don’t more managers and boards consider mental health? In all honesty, the problem can seem scary and complicated and many managers don’t have any experience in dealing with mental health. The good news is that you don’t need to be a social worker to start considering how mental health is affecting your team! There are a few steps you can start taking today in order to improve the mental health of the owners and employees of your community.
Foster a Safe Environment - Allow opportunities for staff to share any concerns or issues that they have. That may mean holding community mental health open houses, focus groups, staff meetings, or individual supervision time. I’ve seen a lot of managers have an “open door policy” and think that it’s enough to encourage dialogue. But the fact of the matter is that many people who are dealing with mental health issues don’t know how to ask for help or want to deal with the stigma of a mental illness. They may be afraid that it will impact their employment or status in the community by asking for help. Creating dedicated time for conversation takes the burden off of them to start the conversation and normalize talking about mental health.
Be Aware of Community Resources - Every city has a host of community resources, including social workers, case managers, outpatient/inpatient programs and task forces that may be helpful for individual issues. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, hoarding, or dementia, chances are there is someone in your area who can help. Familiarize yourself with those resources now before it becomes an immediate need. Share them openly and frequently with staff. Placing signs, brochures, websites, phone numbers and business cards in public spaces are all great options for sharing resources. You can encourage staff to utilize services from your employee assistance program (EAP) or, if you don’t have one, consider looking into how to secure services as an investment in your staff.
Spread the Message - This starts at the top. Just as with any other management initiative, you set the tone for the community. By regularly discussing mental health, encouraging folks to talk about it, or by sharing resources, you will eventually foster a regular conversation that people are comfortable having. Depending on generation, family life and education level, a lot of folks are not comfortable talking about mental health so it may fall on you to start the conversation. You may also choose to allow for some anonymity by providing phone numbers or websites of community resources for folks to directly contact. This will help with individuals who may not want to let management know about their challenges but who still want to get help.
Ask the right questions - You may not want to get overly involved in staff's personal lives and that’s perfectly okay. But there are still some questions that you can ask that will make people feel more comfortable with asking for help. Be sure to ask open-ended questions (as opposed to yes/no questions) that allow people some room to talk. Things like “What resources would be helpful for you to feel better?” or “What typically helps you feel better when you’re struggling?” may be better than simply asking “Are you okay?”
Get help - Chances are you don’t have a background in mental healthcare and that’s okay! There are plenty of experts who can help guide you toward what resources/policies/structures you’ll need to implement in order to destigmatize the mental health conversation and provide community members with some relief. A regular and ongoing training program is vital. Do some research and figure out who that might be before it’s too late.
Approaching conversations around mental health can seem daunting but it needn’t be. By simply asking questions and fostering an open space, you’re starting a conversation that can potentially avoid any unfortunate situations and will improve the lives of everyone who walks through the doors of your community.