October 10 is World Mental Health Day (WMHD). All around the world, since 1992, this has been a day to reflect on and raise awareness around mental health issues around the world. As the World Health Organization points out, this day is an opportunity for those working within the mental health field to openly talk about the work they do and discuss what can be done to make it better. The goal and priority of these conversations and essentially what WMHD hopes to accomplish is making mental health care accessible and a reality for people worldwide.
The theme of WMHD this year is, Make Mental Health for all a Global Priority. As the world has grappled with COVID for the past few years, and continues to do so, this theme can easily resonate with all of us. In honour of this day, let us talk about creating workplaces that support mental health. What small steps can we take to make our work environments safe spaces for those who may be suffering in silence?
Many of us spend most of our days working, whether that be remotely or in the office, so it is not particularly a surprise that much of our mental health is influenced by our workplaces. Although often viewed as a taboo topic to discuss in the workplace, employees do want to talk about mental health. A study in 2018 found that over 70 percent of employees want their employers to prioritize and champion mental health and well-being (Kohll, 2018). Employees want that shift and are asking for it.
Employers need to recognize that productivity is inextricably linked to the mental health of their employees. We cannot expect someone that is going through their mental health challenges unsupported or unrecognized to prioritize or think about the needs of the company they are working for. Research confirms that companies that prioritize mental health needs of their employees see an increase in productivity and retention, and a decrease in health care and disability costs (Rawe, 2021).
If the need and want is there, what can be done? Is there a key concept that can help us create paths of understanding within our places of work? Yes, there is, and it is called connection.
What can organizations do to create spaces of connection?
- Vulnerability: Studies confirm that social connections benefit and strengthen our mental and physical health. We are all aware of that. Managers who can be vulnerable with those they work with can create a space where conversations about mental health are natural and organic. A manager who can normalize mental health challenges will also reduce the stigma that is attached to them and can create bridges to meet their employees and their needs.
- Check-ins: Managers who can engage in active listening and create a flowing conversation between themselves and those they work with can help strengthen team dynamics. The idea is to give employees the space and opportunity to discuss mental health issues without the formalities and pressure in place. This, in turn, will create a culture of connection (Harvard Business Review).
- Flexibility and Adaptability: If COVID has taught us anything, it is that we can adapt, and we can change the culture of a workplace in days. Allowing for more flexibility will show employees that they matter and the decisions they make to maintain their mental health is important. Some of the biggest companies are offering leave and family benefits to help promote a healthier and more dynamic work-life balance that takes employee mental health into consideration (McLaren, 2020).
This World Mental Health Day, let us all take the time to reflect on how we can create spaces of deeper connection, understanding, empathy, and support for those of us who continue to struggle and suffer in silence. You are not alone.
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Dina Shamlawi is Associate at MT Consulting Group, focusing on the intersections of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with mental health, race and gender. She earned her M.Ed. in Educational Administration and Leadership from the University of Alberta in 2015. She has since worked as an educator and within the higher education sector. Dina is currently pursuing her MA in Counselling Psychology at Yorkville University.