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Professional self-care: managing mental health in the workplace

01_MentalHealth-05

Does your workplace support your mental health?

We’re at a pivotal moment in prioritizing mental health and self-care. It’s not uncommon for influencers to discuss their mental health and share tips on how to manage your own mental health. But while the world is becoming more open about sharing mental health struggles, many people don’t know how to navigate it at work.

Here’s the thing: nearly 1 in 5 US adults report that they have some form of mental illness, which means at least 20% of the workforce potentially have mental health needs. The problem is that employees aren’t generally aware of how to utilize their healthcare benefits for mental health treatment.

It’s something I’ve spent a lot of time navigating myself; dealing with my mental health while also being an obsessive worker—arguably a result of my mental illness—has made it difficult for me to practice the same mentality that I preach. And it’s taken a long time for me to accept how my mental health fits into my working style.

So what’s helped me better manage my mental health as a working professional? First and foremost is having a place of employment that supports my needs. I spend nearly 40% of my waking hours each week working, and I know how much the workplace environment can impact my wellness. Finding ways to manage that, along with getting the support I need at work, has been a process… but a worthwhile one.

Managing mental health in the office

Supporting employee mental health at work is not as simple as providing sheet masks and meditation hours. There are concrete practices each workplace should adopt, changes that can have an immediate—and significant—impact.

  1. Workplace wellness
  2. Employee assistance programs
  3. Compassionate management
  4. Work-life balance

Workplace wellness

“Wellness” is a common buzzword these days, but what does it mean? For many, it takes the form of physical self-care: face masks, bubble baths, yoga, and nutrition. For others, it’s about forming the boundaries necessary to protect their mental health. And there’s certainly no clear definition of workplace wellness.

To practice better mental health awareness, more and more businesses are introducing wellness programs. Many workplaces provide meditation or wellness rooms, yoga classes, or mindfulness activities to prioritize their employees’ well-being. Some even offer comprehensive mental health benefits in their medical insurance packages.

Physical health factors into mental health, too—research shows that poor physical health is comorbid with poor mental health, and workplaces have the opportunity to tackle both with direct benefits such as gym memberships or office-provided fitness classes.

But mental health needs differ from person to person, and certainly from business to business. If you’re a business owner, generalizing your approach to mental health may not be the best option. Our friends over at Compt suggest a Lifestyle Spending Account to offer stipends for health and wellness. That way, employees can focus on the wellness initiatives that make sense for them.

Employee assistance programs

Take it from me: an employee assistance program (EAP) can be a lifeline. Having the resources to seek mental health treatment is a big issue that often goes unaddressed—only 43% of US adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018 per the National Alliance on Mental Illness. An EAP addresses that lack of access, offering free or affordable confidential benefits through the workplace that many cannot otherwise access:

  • Mental health assessments
  • Counseling
  • Referrals
  • Mentoring or affinity groups

These resources aid in a range of issues, including substance abuse, psychological disorders, trauma, grief, and more. And EAP counselors work with management and administration to ensure the organization is meeting the needs of its employees.

Learn more about EAPs via the US Office of Personnel Management here.

Compassionate management

One of the most critical ways to support mental health in the workplace is through properly trained and compassionate management. A manager who better understands the needs of an employee with mental illness can better provide guidance, support, and feedback to help them balance work and health.

For example, in my first week at Flock, our director of content strategy Mimi let me know that I had the freedom to schedule out my workdays—including making therapy appointments during the day if necessary. And she made it clear that I didn’t need to explicitly communicate that’s what I’m doing so long as I get the work done. As a firm advocate that everyone should go to therapy, having that kind of flexibility and understanding makes me more comfortable to seek the treatment I need. And it also makes it easier for me to communicate my needs with my manager… which helps me feel more connected to my work.

Work-life balance

By now it should go without saying that work-life balance has a dramatic impact on personal wellness, for better or for worse. Working long hours, bringing work home, and managing stress at work directly affects your mental well-being. Workplaces can combat this by offering flexible hours and remote work options. Direct oversight of workplace dynamics also helps manage stress levels at work, helping employees feel supported and heard.

According to the World Health Organization, a poorly-managed work environment can contribute to poor mental health. Risky workplace practices include:

  • Inadequate health and safety policies
  • Poor communication and management practices
  • Limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work
  • Low levels of support for employees
  • Inflexible working hours
  • Unclear tasks or organizational objectives

Businesses have a responsibility to take care of their employees and support workplace wellness. With just a few simple changes to company policy and smarter health benefits, employee well-being can prosper—and everyone benefits from that. 

If you’re struggling with mental illness in the U.S, you can find support by texting NAMI to 741-741. In India, contact the Roshni Helpline at (+914) 066202000.

Leadership, Team Management, Small Businesses, Business Owners

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