In the past few months, and for the foreseeable future, employers have been or will begin soon to strategize ways to support employee mental health as workforces around the world continue to adjust to new work environments, the persistent risk of Covid-19, and an uncertain future. It takes a collective effort and bold leadership to drive lasting change in an organization, but the power of individual voices as well should not be underestimated. This is especially true when it comes to workplace mental health, since lived experiences and personal stories can resonate deeply and inspire many. The pandemic has impacted virtually everyone in different and difficult ways, but it has also created a common, relatable experience for most employees and their managers. Regardless of any prior mental health issues, everyone is navigating a new normal and dealing with the ways in which their own lives are changing in reaction to a global crisis. Whether an organization has a fully developed workplace mental health program or is just beginning to explore the path ahead, an individual employee can have significant impact in starting conversations and shifting workplace culture.
One way to break down an organization’s workplace mental health journey is to consider four key areas: leadership, access to services, awareness, and culture. Influencing leadership often requires a relatively high-ranking position in an organization; especially in large companies, communicating with executive leaders isn’t always easy. Additionally, improving access to services often takes a team of healthcare and benefits experts. However, any individual interested in being a “change agent” can focus their efforts in the categories of awareness and culture. Below are some helpful strategies and resources that can amplify your voice and drive change.
Know the Impact and Raise Awareness
Understanding the signs of poor mental health in yourself – whether from stress, anxiety, depression, or something else – is a critical first step. There are helpful screening tools available to monitor your own wellbeing; Mental Health America offers a free test for stress or nine other mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and addiction. However, the unprecedented times we are in could be driving new behaviors, thoughts, or even dreams that might not be obviously recognizable as warning signs or red flags of deteriorating mental function. Many people are experiencing a mental health issue for the first time as a result of Covid-19 and may be confused by symptoms – especially if they take the form of impaired cognition, memory, or focus.
For example, Total Brain, a digital mental health and brain fitness platform that measures brain function across twelve different capacities, in partnership with One Mind, has released an index revealing a “reduced resilience” and a trend toward negativity among American workers. Resilience, the ability to “bounce back when something bad happens,” is an important mental skill that can help individuals better handle stress and setbacks. Whatever level of seniority you may hold at your workplace, you can demonstrate individual best practices in workplace mental health by proactively seeking tools to monitor and improve your own brain health. The next step is to demonstrate these behaviors openly and use them as a bridge to open up conversations in the workplace.
Start a Conversation
Workplace conversations about mental health can be intimidating; fortunately, there are tools to assist you. For example, the Bell Let’s Talk Toolkit can help ensure that you’re asking questions and using language that builds trust. Another way to openly move forward mental health dialogue in your workplace is to participate in, or advocate for, peer support networks. One in three working-age adults have or will experience a mental health disorder; participation in a peer support group communicates solid support for those individuals in your organization. Alternatively, if peer support groups do not exist in your workplace, there is still a high chance that many of your colleagues have either experienced a mental health challenge or know a close friend or family member who has; such colleagues might be willing participants if a peer support group were initiated.
Help Create a Culture of Mental Health
If you hold a management position, find your own way of supporting employees’ mental health needs. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, that might have meant offering flexible schedules and the option to work remotely; given the new reality, it could mean more frequent personal check-ins or encouraging a mindfulness or meditation exercise during a weekly meeting. Managing your own mental health by intentionally developing coping skills such as positive self-talk or mindfulness can also help set a positive example for colleagues. It could even include a paid mental-health day off.
Finally, take advantage of benefits, including Employee Assistance Programs. Whether or not your employer offers a comprehensive benefits package, understanding what is available – or voicing concern about what is missing – can help others understand that needing assistance is okay and helps to cultivate a culture of acceptance.
Original article by: Garen Staglin (www.forbes.com)