According to the American Psychological Association, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness every year. If you have a mental illness you may have difficulty functioning in a number of areas, including at work, school and home. If we know this, why aren’t we more proactive in addressing mental or emotional wellbeing? Discussing mental health can still carry a stigma for some, especially for Baby Boomers. Millennials and Gen Z’ers tend to be more open about discussing their mental health and have also been raised in an environment where it is more common and acceptable to get diagnosed and treated for mental health conditions. The key thus becomes creating an environment where it is safe and acceptable for all to access support for their emotional wellbeing, so they feel better and function better.
Accessing support starts with a culture shift. It is important for all of us to talk openly and regularly about supporting the emotional wellbeing of individuals and ways to access support. If we are open about our own struggles, taking a mental health day, feeling burned out, and prioritizing time for a vacation, that can model the behavior and make it feel safe for others to do the same. Also critical is being sensitive in the way we speak to others about mental health concerns, recognizing warning signs and offering support to others that are struggling.
Everyone could use more education to help recognize their own signs and symptoms and to know what they can do to take better care of themselves and what resources they can access. One way is to do some self-examination of your needs by completing questionnaires such as the Work Limitations Questionnaire, which measures the impact of chronic conditions on job performance, or the Brief Job Stress Questionnaire, designed to identify individuals with psychological distress. Alternatively, if someone struggles with depression specifically, they can measure the severity of symptoms with the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) or anxiety symptoms with the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD7) to determine if they should reach out for therapy and or medication management of symptoms. Signing up for free mental health newsletters covering quick and easily digestible snippets of information can be helpful. Webinars and podcasts are also interesting, easy ways to learn more.
Some employers have resources and services available through their Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) where employees can feel safe that they can access services confidentially in-person, via telehealth, texting or other options to help with a broad range of mental health issues.
Some other strategies employers use to promote emotional well-being can include flex work schedules and creating a culture where it is expected that employees take time to recharge and reenergize including taking short breaks during the workday to eat lunch without interruption, take a walk or practice meditation. Offering access and reimbursement to gyms/exercise programs or maybe even onsite access so employees can utilize it during their breaks. It is important not just to make paid time off available but to encourage employees to take regular vacation time or even a mental health day as needed. And offering return-to-work options for employees that have had to take extended time off to manage mental health concerns shows staff they are valued, and their wellbeing is important.