Time to Talk About Mental Health

Posted: 5/2/2022 12:00:05 AM by Jenna Velez, LCSW, VP of External Affairs, Mental Health Association of Westchester

We don’t talk about…  

How did you finish that sentence?  If you have children in your home, or perhaps you are simply a Disney enthusiast, then you are probably singing the word Bruno right now. If you have no idea what I’m referencing, consider yourself spared from the earworm.  But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.

For far too long mental health has been a subject that we don’t talk enough about.  Stigma has been a powerful force in shaping the way society views and thinks about mental health, contributing to negative and inaccurate perceptions that lead to discrimination in all facets of life.  This has been particularly true in the workplace.  Despite the fact that approximately 20% of individuals in the US experience a mental health concern annually, conversations about how to recognize and respond to signs of concern are often avoided.  It is not difficult to connect this to the outcome that more than half of those reporting a mental health concern have not received treatment.

During the past two years of the COVID pandemic, conversations about mental health have been thrust to the forefront.  Increasingly more individuals have grappled with the grief, uncertainty, fear and disappointment associated with the pandemic and other societal upheaval with which we are reckoning.  There is a growing recognition that we all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, existing along a continuum from illness to wellness.  The normalization of these conversations is resulting in greater acceptance, awareness and understanding that talking about mental health has far-reaching positive outcomes.  The workplace is a prime example of this.

Recently there has been a proliferation of research and media attention to the concept of workplace wellness.  Articles published in Harvard Business Review and Forbes demonstrate the mounting interest in how to promote mental well-being at all kinds of workplaces and businesses.  There is even an appetite for organizations outside of the human services realm that are striving to adopt trauma-informed workplaces.  There is an opportunity for us to seize this moment, creating a workplace culture that emphasizes balance, well-being, transparency and connection, rather than individual productivity and success at any cost.  A mentally healthy workforce is more likely to produce the higher quality work and profitability towards which organizations strive.

Organizations that are striving to create trauma-informed work cultures will need to include an emphasis on employee mental health.  With the recognition that people don’t check parts of themselves at the door when coming to work, we know without a doubt that a significant number of employees are dealing with mental health concerns during the workday.  This has the potential to negatively impact work performance, relationships and behavior.  A trauma-informed workplace that emphasizes safety, trust and transparency, sends the message to employees that it is encouraged to share these challenges.  I am not suggesting that the workplace become responsible for addressing an employee’s mental health through clinical interventions.  Rather, I’m suggesting that employers have a responsibility to talk openly about mental health, teach employees to recognize signs of concern, frequently highlight any available resources (i.e. EAP, employee support groups), and actively attend to any aspects of workplace culture that may be contributing to unhealthy levels of stress.   

Research findings have revealed that the ability to feel authentic and open at work leads to better performance, engagement, employee retention and overall well-being.  May is Mental Health Awareness month, so there is no better time than now to start talking!

The Mental Health Association of Westchester has been awarded the 2022 platinum Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health by Mental Health America.
 
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