Gregory P. Crawford is president of University of Miami from Ohio.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to life the old truth that “the health of each of us depends on the health of all of us”. It further revealed that mental health – long overlooked in the past – is just as important as physical health. Studies show that during the pandemic some 80% of people experience anxiety, sadness, depression or isolation, compared to 20% previously. In addition to the pandemic, a reckoning of race, polarized politics, inflation, war and many other factors pose challenges to individuals and society. Depression can affect labor productivity, which costs the U.S. economy an estimated $210.5 billion per year. The workplace, where people spend about half of their waking lives, can be a source of harmful stress or a source of mental health support.
As university president, I am responsible for fostering an environment that promotes mental health for a large, diverse organization ranging from generations of Gen-Z students to Boomer faculties and staff. Even before the pandemic, we increased our investment in on-campus mental health support services. Now we are expanding our education and prevention efforts, leveraging technology, training mental health allies, strengthening ongoing care, and engaging in mental health conversations. Here I describe three key initiatives that can be applied to any organization: education to reduce stigma and raise awareness, access to services and practices to reduce stress and promote well-being.
Educate to raise awareness.
When focusing on mental health, make sure to include efforts to eliminate the entrenched stigma that may still be present in the stereotypes and assumptions of employers, co-workers, and friends. Mental health stigma can lead to overt, subtle, or unintentional discrimination that creates a toxic work environment. Organizations can develop programs and cultures that eliminate stigma, increase inclusion and increase productivity. They can bring mental health professionals to forums, workshops and conferences to the workplace. They can raise awareness that many people will eventually experience a mental illness or disorder in their lives, encourage those who feel isolation, loneliness, or shame, and increase empathy and acceptance in the workplace and community. They can help employees learn how to take care of their mental health and spot signs in a coworker who may need support. Eliminating stigma in the workplace is a primary goal of such programs. A starting point could be to include programs on World Mental Health Day (October 10). Helpful Resources are available to organizations of all sizes to raise awareness and promote change.
In addition to adoption, organizations can develop programs that equip people to be mental health allies in the workplace. Training can include learning to access resources in both the organization and the community, use supportive and inclusive language when speaking to a colleague about mental health, and engage colleagues in a way that makes them feel relevant and vital. to feel. Mental health allies Providing peer support to colleagues can have a major positive impact on organizations. Such programs foster a caring and inclusive culture that benefits all employees and an enlightened, empathetic attitude that individuals will adopt toward their family, friends and communities outside of the workplace.
Provide access to services.
Many organizations have established employee assistance programs, and some are adding programs that raise awareness and action on mental health. Employees who participate often recognize their need for follow-up support and services. Employers can provide such support in a variety of ways, from one-on-one on-site appointments to remote health sessions with licensed clinicians to hotlines for specific needs, such as suicide prevention. As some people remain reluctant to use employee assistance programs, I’ve found that a variety of options is vital for immediate support, crisis intervention, and ongoing stabilization. Mental health problems arise from a variety of sources and can affect a person’s entire life – at home and other relationships, as well as at work. Therefore, mental health support for employees should be broad enough to include stress and triggers inside and outside the workplace. The goal is the well-being of the whole person in every aspect of life.
Support practices to reduce stress.
Organizational executives generally know when workplace stress is increasing due to regular cycles and deadlines, such as product shipments, quotas, month-end goals, and reports. This allows them to help employees prepare for such critical times. While moments of “good stress” such as getting a promotion, new assignment, or large order can generate positive energy, persistent “bad stress” is detrimental to both individuals and the organization. Teach employees to recognize the signs of “bad stress” such as anxiety, fatigue, sleep loss, changes in appetite, frustration and irritability, and to recognize when ill effects go beyond the ordinary ups and downs of life.
Self-care for mental health happens both inside and outside the workplace. Educational programs, checklists and apps are available to help employees maintain a healthy lifestyle 24/7. Organizations can create a supportive, healthy environment at work by practicing gratitude, focusing on positivity, and providing opportunities such as mindfulness exercises or games during lunch or breaks. Many leaders recognize the value of “mental health days” for employees and the organization. Presenteeism – showing up at work when you’re not feeling well – can be a mental and physical health problem. A day at home to eat and sleep well, engage in fun activities and relax can help clear your head, reduce stress and charge a person for work.
Building a workplace culture for mental health is critical for employees and the organization. Such an environment can help organizations recruit and retain top talent. Investing in training to provide early mental health support can improve organizational health:a study showed an 8:1 increase in ROI. Proactive interventions can increase ROI by 6:1. I believe the successful recruitment of younger generations will depend on a demonstrated commitment to mental health and wellness. Workplace initiatives can have a powerful impact on individuals and the entire society in which we live together.