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Why National Mental Health Awareness Month Matters More Now

Mental health was an issue long before the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted it to peak numbers of people reporting mental illness, lack of access to care and resources, and losses to mental health issues. And mental health awareness has been consistently advocated for years. In fact, Mental Health Awareness Month was first celebrated in 1949, but wasn’t officially recognized until May 2021, when President Biden proclaimed May as the designated month.

Mental Health Awareness Month is a call for businesses, organizations, and individuals to help connect those with mental illness with the support and quality care they deserve. Moreover, it is a great time to make an extra push—aligned with your year-round efforts—to increase awareness in the workplace.

Here are some ideas for mental health awareness month you can bring to the workplace.

  • Create an informational newsletter. Depending on the size of your organization, it might be difficult to communicate across the entire company. Creating an informational newsletter can help bridge any gaps between company decisions and any resources available. If you already have a newsletter, you can always tailor it to align with monthly themes, like Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, among others. In May, you can create blogs, resources (i.e. links to mental health organizations or telehealth providers), free apps, and other initiatives you might be implementing to support your employee’s mental health and well-being.
  • Invest in general employee wellness. Aligned with the previous point, it is just as important to take action. Invest in your employees’ overall wellness. Think meditation, yoga, incentives for wellness (i.e. gym memberships), mental health app subscriptions, raffles for mental health-related gifts (i.e. spa day), or healthier food options (e.g. meal ready delivery services). Reach out to your employees and ask for feedback about what would help them feel supported in their general health and wellness. From there, you can seek out benefits and other resources that truly assist them in their well-being journey.
  • Develop employee-centered programs. Whether you have them or not, employee-centered programs like employee assistance programs (EAPs), employee resource groups (ERGs), and financial wellness programs, can help provide the education, tools, and resources employees are looking for to feel more supported and successful. EAPs often offer services and resources, i.e. financial, social, psychological, to support  issues that impact employees’ workplace behavior. Whereas ERGs focus on giving employees of marginalized groups a stronger voice in advocating for and effectuating change in the workplace.
  • Foster authentic conversations and connections. One of the most impactful ways to boost mental health awareness in the workplace is to foster authentic conversations and connections. Help break the mental illness stigma by having a real conversation. Conduct regular check-ins that aren’t focused solely on work-related matters. They can provide your employees with an opportunity to air out any personal issues that may be impacting their work or productivity, as well as give you an opportunity to help them find the quality care and support they need. If needed, offer learning and development to all employees that focus on mental health support. Topics might include microaggressions, bias, stress management, burnout, emotional intelligence, and other issues that can impact company culture.

3 Self-Care Tips for Mental Health Support

  1. Fighting Mental Illness Stigma: Anxiety impacts approximately 40 million adults in the United States and approximately 1 in 10 adults suffer from some type of mood disorder (i.e. depression, bipolar disorder). Part of fighting the mental illness stigma is learning more about it. This stage of the process is awareness and education. In order to fight a stigma, you need to be aware of what it is, how it is formed, and how to prevent it. One of the best ways to do so is to invest in proper training to educate your employees on appropriate terminology and phrases, tools to address and neutralize uncomfortable situations, and emotional intelligence to recognize and offer support when needed.
  2. Finding Adequate Support: Take the time you need to rest. Mental health impacts everyone differently. What works for you, might not work for someone else. If your company doesn’t have an ERG or EAP, take the initiative to advocate for one. If your company doesn’t offer mental health services or healthcare insurance that covers it, start evaluating alternative coverage options. Most importantly, don’t stay silent. If you need support, reach out to a manager and express what you need. Or if you’re not comfortable reaching out to your manager, reach out to a coworker you trust or your HR department. HR professionals will likely be more equipped to support you or help you find the resources you need.
  3. Prevention Best Practices: One of the top ways to prevent mental health crises is to engage in self-care. Regardless of whether or not your company offers a designated “mental health day” or a sick day/paid time off,  arrange a day to recharge when you need it. In the long run, a company who cares about their employees will not be upset at them for taking the time they need to rest and refresh. Plus, taking time to disconnect can help prevent burnout as well.

Mental health can be a sensitive subject, but organizations would be well advised to reevaluate their policies and benefit offerings to help break the stigma. As more Gen Z enter the workforce and Millennials move into leadership roles, it’s important for companies to recognize the impact mental health truly has on its employees and organization as a whole. Looking for more tips? Explore HR’s Guide for Supporting Employee Mental Health and learn talent management tips and tricks to improve the overall employee experience.

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