A Discussion on Mental Health
By Deb Walker
“I’m taking a mental health day!”
“I’m calling in well today.”
These two statements speak volumes about your workplace culture. I have had the good fortune in my career to work for several organizations where these two statements were not only allowed but encouraged. Unfortunately, I have also worked for organizations where these phrases were so far from the truth that they could have been in another language.
Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked, and the two statements above demonstrate a culture where mental health is held in as high esteem as physical health. Body ailments can trigger disorders like anxiety and depression and vice versa. People with a serious mental illness are at a higher risk of developing a chronic physical health condition, and Canadians with a chronic physical illness experience depression and anxiety twice as often as those who aren’t chronically ill, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
We are coming out of a period in the calendar that is rife with challenges in our society – both inside and outside the organization. The Christmas and holiday season overall, along with the transition from one year to the next, involves so much more than the mere turning of a page in a calendar. It is often a dichotomous situation for many people. On the one hand, it is filled with gaiety, togetherness, gifts, memories, high expectations, and excitement, and on the other hand, it is filled with stress, loneliness, self-esteem challenges, financial anxiety, family discord and, again, high expectations.
What that means is, for many, it is a time of renewal, celebration, and rededication but it can also bring stresses, both physical and mental. The making and breaking of resolutions impact our self-esteem, conflicts in relationships lead to emotions most often left buried and unattended, and disappointments in either ourselves or in those that we care for as we are collectively held to often unattainable standards. For those of us in northern hemisphere nations, these are coupled with colder, darker weather leading to more isolation than at other times of the year. Loneliness and isolation, coupled with feelings of failure and inadequacy, can be crippling.
We all know that having an effective support network can go a long way for someone who is struggling. When an individual keeps their emotions bottled up inside out of fear or shame, they can unintentionally foster an environment where their negative inner voice causes problems to magnify. For many, being able to openly talk about what they are experiencing can help them move through more difficult times and realize the following:
- They are not alone as many individuals struggle from mental health;
- There are other perspectives out there that can counteract the negative inner voice;
- Two minds are more capable to address the problem or to identify alternatives for minimizing its impact;
- To feel emotions is to be human, and it’s important to learn how to address one’s emotions instead of pushing them down into darker places.
The other statement that I have been fortunate to openly say at times is that I am “calling in well”. When it comes to mental health, it is important to focus on proactivity instead of reactivity and to address issues before they have the chance to negatively impact mental health. A healthy way of life (and work) is to weave actions into our routines and lifestyle that build our resilience when things do inevitably go contrary to plans. Using statements such as “calling in well” allow an individual to openly express when a day off work is needed to address personal dilemmas, family changes, and other stressors.
Key Takeaways for Employers
As an employer, there are many different ways that you can bring awareness and start a discussion on mental health in the workplace. Consider these key takeaways to help foster a supportive environment.
- Provide the Tools to Be Proactive
Ensure managers receive comprehensive guidance on how to screen for behavioural issues and stressors (for both on-site and remote employees) and are aware of how their management style affects their team. By identifying when employees are struggling with mental health, managers can strategize how best to support the employee before the issue becomes more serious.
- Implement a Mental Health Program
A key benefit of having a mental health program is to provide an opportunity to break the cycle of silence and stigma around mental health in the workplace. What makes these initiatives successful is an organizational commitment, from the top-down and to being open about and encouraging mental health care. If employees feel encouraged to learn about and access their mental health benefits, this can only be of benefit to their employer as they acknowledge and seek help for symptoms before a problem grows. Taking a preventative approach to treating mental health issues may, in the long run, reduce disability-related costs.
- Encourage Healthy Discussion
Through encouraging employees to talk freely about their mental health, not only does there exist the opportunity of increasing trust between managers and employees but also for open, judgment-free dialogue. By sustaining a stigma-free conversation, managers can encourage a proactive culture where employees feel they can put their hand up when help is needed and help prevent mental health issues from arising in the first place.
Regardless of how you choose to start a discussion on mental health in the workplace, the most important takeaway is that you encourage a culture where these conversations can happen.