May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the one month each year designated to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental health. In truth, awareness of the cases, causes and implications of mental health disorders should be an every-day observance. So, let's make mental health awareness a year-round effort.
The need has only grown more acute during and since the pandemic as individuals, employers, healthcare providers and families have experienced the need to address and assist those affected by mental health disorders.
The numbers speak volumes. Some 50 million Americans deal with mental health issues. One in 10 Americans under the age of 18 experienced mental health conditions, with substance abuse increasing among those aged 18 to 24. We also know women are more severely impacted than men.
This isn’t just a U.S. concern. The World Health Organization reported earlier this year that the prevalence of anxiety and depression has grown globally by 25%.
While mental health-related emergency room visits grew 31% in 2020, only half of individuals with mental illness ever seek treatment. It seems when we need care the most, finding a professional therapist also has grown more difficult.
As life returns to normal and employees and their families are re-engaging in their normal activities, many are reporting less depression and anxiety. Below are a few tips on how to stay attuned to and improve the mental health of those around us - including ourselves…
- Look for the health symptoms. Long-term exposure to stress weakens our immune system, and the result could be more colds, body aches, pain in the neck and shoulders (as that’s where tension is carried). As stress is addressed and minimized, other symptoms could fade.
- Get outside. Seasonal time spent outdoors, especially as spring blooms and summer approaches, leads to a decrease in reported symptoms. Whether working or having lunch outside, or just taking a walk, fresh air can be therapeutic.
- Stay connected. Research shows that connections with others help to increase our happiness and create better health, especially in older people. The emotional support and simple conversations lend perspective and validation.
- Disconnect. Continued long-term exposure to stress and negative influences can weaken the immune system and increase susceptibility to physical illnesses. Combat this by unplugging your technology and taking a break from the news and social media negativity. It may put a smile on your face.
Your business can help by doing the following…
- Watch for the obvious and hidden signs. Virtual meetings don’t hide all the cues of body language, if you know what to look for. Have people’s behavior changed? Are they speaking differently? Are they reserved when they have been outgoing? If they were “hand talkers,” are they now more subdued and avoid looking at the camera? Do they have a flat affect? Watch and listen, you will see and hear.
- Ask, “How are you doing?” HIPAA and other state and federal laws limit discussions of workers’ health. Instead, ask simple questions: How are you doing? What are you doing to take care of yourself? Who do you have around you that you can talk to? Then, listen. Being a sounding board can help those in need.
- Improve your organization’s response for your team’s mental health needs. Managers can listen and model healthy behaviors by making sure they are checking in with their staff on a regular basis. Invest in staff training to help minimize anxiety about work projects. Ask staff what they need from you or the company. Arrange for off-site gatherings to foster esprit de corps. Let your team know they are not alone.
- Provide resources. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and services can help employees address their personal mental health and wellness. Some companies provide subscriptions to meditation apps such as Insight Timer and Headspace or virtual therapy services.
- Encourage work/life balance. Juggling the responsibilities of work and life remain out of balance for many. Encourage efficiency with time they do spend working. Discuss your employees’ needs for schedule flexibility or remote work options, or a return to the traditional office, especially for those workers who want to spend more time in the office to reconnect with your teams.
Maybe we should rethink our approach to mental health. It’s not about illness. It’s about wellbeing. While the pandemic led to a spike in mental health issues, since then we’ve placed an emphasis on mental wellbeing, stress management and coping skills.
We discovered what appeared as roadblocks and found our own resiliency. We adapted, emerged from isolation to find belonging and companionship. We learned to give ourselves space, grace and understanding, to celebrate our own victories.
Let's spend every day, of every year, celebrating our mental wellbeing.