8 Ways Managers Can Support Employee Mental Health

Mental health used to be one of those taboo-like topics that no one liked to talk about.   Today, hardly a day goes by without a TV news story, front page article or social media conversation around mental health, especially employee mental health.  And it’s no wonder.  Employees across virtually every industry have never been subject to so much stress and anxiety.  Concern over the prospect of pandemic induced illness or death,  financial and job uncertainly, social isolation, the complications of working from home, the difficulties imposed by home schooling of children and the uncertainty of what comes next are taking a toll on everyone’s mental health.  Add to that social unrest and a hotly contested political environment and you have the mental health perfect storm.

Even before the pandemic, many employers were stepping up their investment and focus on employee mental health.  Increasingly, employers are recognizing how employee mental health issues affect productivity, absenteeism, turnover and ultimately profitability.  The need for more comprehensive employee mental health support is more important today than ever.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review  provided some excellent advice for what managers and leaders can do to support employees struggling with today’s stressors, safety concerns and economic upheaval.  The article suggested eight specific ways that managers can support employees, which we’re sharing below.

What Managers and Leaders Can Do

Even in the most uncertain of times, the role of a manager remains the same: to support your team members. That includes supporting their mental health. The good news is that many of the tools you need to do so are the same ones that make you an effective manager.

Be vulnerable

One silver lining of the pandemic is that it is normalizing mental health challenges. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort. But the universality of the experience will translate into a decrease in stigma only if people, especially people in power, share their experiences. Being honest about your mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking with you about mental health

Prior to the pandemic, the biotech firm Roche Genentech produced videos in which senior leaders talked about their mental health. They were shared on the company intranet as part of a campaign called #Let’sTalk. The company then empowered “mental health champions” — a network of employees trained to help build awareness for mental health — to make videos about their experiences, which were used as part of the company’s various mental health awareness campaigns.

Those of us working from home have had no choice but to be transparent about our lives, whether our kids have crashed our video meetings or our coworkers have gotten glimpses of our homes. When managers describe their challenges, whether mental-health-related or not, it makes them appear human, relatable, and brave.

Model healthy behaviors

Don’t just say you support mental health. Model it so that your team members feel they can prioritize self-care and set boundaries. More often than not, managers are so focused on their team’s well-being and on getting the work done that they forget to take care of themselves. Share that you’re taking a walk in the middle of the day, having a therapy appointment, or prioritizing a staycation (and actually turning off email) so that you don’t burn out.

Build a culture of connection through check-ins

Intentionally checking in with each of your direct reports on a regular basis is more critical than ever. That was important but often underutilized in pre-pandemic days. Now, with so many people working from home, it can be even harder to notice the signs that someone is struggling. Go beyond a simple “How are you?” and ask specific questions about what supports would be helpful. Wait for the full answer. Really listen, and encourage questions and concerns. Of course, be careful not to be overbearing; that could signal a lack of trust or a desire to micromanage.

When someone shares that they’re struggling, you won’t always know what to say or do. What’s most important is to make space to hear how your team members are truly doing and to be compassionate. They may not want to share much detail, which is completely fine. Knowing that they can is what matters.

Offer flexibility and be inclusive

Expect that the situation, your team’s needs, and your own needs will continue to change. Check in regularly — particularly at transition points. You can help problem-solve any issues that come up only if you know what’s happening. Those conversations will also give you an opportunity to reiterate norms and practices that support mental health. Inclusive flexibility is about proactive communication and norm-setting that helps people design and preserve the boundaries they need.

Don’t make assumptions about what your direct reports need; they will most likely need different things at different times. Take a customized approach to addressing stressors, such as challenges with childcare or feeling the need to work all the time. Proactively offer flexibility. Be as generous and realistic as possible. Basecamp CEO Jason Fried recently announced that employees with any type of care taking responsibilities could set their own schedules, even if that meant working fewer hours. Being accommodating doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your standards. Flexibility can help your team thrive amid the continued uncertainty.

Normalize and model this new flexibility by highlighting how you’ve changed your own behavior. Stacey Sprenkel, a partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, proactively told her teams that she was working odd hours because of her childcare responsibilities and invited them to share what they needed to work best during the pandemic.

Ask team members to be patient and understanding with one another as they adapt. Trust them and assume the best. They are relying on you and will remember how you treated them during this unprecedented time.

Communicate more than you think you need to

One recent research study showed that employees who felt their managers were not good at communicating have been 23% more likely than others to experience mental health declines since the outbreak. Make sure you keep your team informed about any organizational changes or updates. Clarify any modified work hours and norms. Remove stress where possible by setting expectations about workloads, prioritizing what must get done, and acknowledging what can slide if necessary.

Make your team aware of available mental health resources and encourage them to use them.   Almost 46% of all workers in s study done in relation to this article said that their company had not proactively shared those. If you’ve shared them once, share them again. And be aware that shame and stigma prevent many employees from using their mental health benefits to seek treatment, so normalize the use of those services.

Although managers will be on the front lines of addressing mental health issues, it’s on the most-senior leaders in your company to take action as well.

What Else Can Organizational Leaders Do?

When is comes to mental health resources, employees want a more open and accepting culture, clearer information about where to go or whom to ask for support, and training.

Mental health symptoms are just as common in the C-Suite as among individual contributors. Sharing your own mental health challenges and modeling healthy behavior are two of the most important steps you can take. Here are a few additional things that leaders can do to normalize and support mental health at work.

Invest in training

Now more than ever, you should prioritize proactive and preventive workplace mental health training for leaders, managers, and individual contributors. Before the pandemic, companies including Morrison & Foerster and Verizon Media were convening senior leaders to discuss their role in creating a mentally healthy culture. That positioned them well to navigate the uncertainty that has unfolded. As more and more employees struggle with mental health, it’s important to debunk common myths, reduce stigma, and build the necessary skills to have productive conversations about mental health at work. If you don’t have the budget to invest in training, mental health employee resource groups are a low-cost way to increase awareness, build community, and offer peer support.

Modify policies and practices

To reduce stress on everyone, be as generous and flexible as possible in updating policies and practices in reaction to the pandemic and civil unrest. For example, you may need to take a closer look at your rules and norms around flexible hours, paid time off, email and other communications, and paid and unpaid leave. Try to reframe performance reviews as opportunities for compassionate feedback and learning instead of evaluations against strict targets. In mid-March, Katherine Maher, the CEO of Wikimedia Foundation, sent an email to her organization outlining changes to mitigate stress, including: “If you need to dial back [work hours], that’s okay.” She also committed to paying contractors and hourly staff on the basis of their typical hours, regardless of their ability to work. When you make changes, be explicit that you are doing so to support the mental health of your employees, if that is the goal.

Measure

Ensuring accountability doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be handled in a simple pulse survey done regularly to understand how people are doing now and over time. BlackRock, the global investment management firm, is one of many organizations that have conducted pulse surveys during the pandemic to understand the primary stressors and needs of staff. This direct employee input has helped shape new programs, including remote management skill-building for managers, enhanced health and well-being support for employees, and increased work flexibility and time off.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Practice Good Self-Care: Take a Mental Health Day

As the global pandemic has shifted our lives into a new “normal,” many Americans have been faced with major transitions in their work, social, and personal lives.  These changes are taking a toll. Over 60% of employees say they are experiencing more stress than before the pandemic started.

A major change we have seen over the past few months is the mass transition to working from home. This sudden break of routine and lack of social interaction has played a major role in how many people have been affected by the change of work environment. Since the onset of the pandemic, over 40% of employees are currently working from home.  On average, these working from home employees are working two more hours per day.

During the start of the pandemic, employees that worked from home saw an initial burst in productivity, but over time, many found it more difficult to stay productive and maintain satisfaction. This was due to various causes including everyday monotony or having to work remotely without the proper resources in place to support their work. Many parents have been forced to juggle multiple roles as employee and teacher while trying to work with family members in the same location.  Lack of social connections with fellow employees led to further difficulty, as did technology challenges and a new version of teamwork in a virtual work world.

This challenging milieu has been amplified by the additional health concerns for working parents about return-to-school plans this fall. Changes to our social circumstances, as well as major economic challenges including furloughs and pay cuts have been added strains to an already stressful period for many. As these changes continue to evolve over the course of the pandemic, feelings of uncertainty over when our lives will return to normality loom over us all.

Although everyone deals with varying levels of personal stress, the effects of stress can be especially difficult to manage if one has symptoms of a clinical mental health condition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety and depressive disorders are the cause of the loss of over a trillion dollars globally every year.

One resource to help employees is a mental health day. Mental health days are designated days that are designed towards stress relief and burnout prevention. Although taking one day off is likely not going to solve significant underlying mental health issues, mental health days can aid in bringing back higher levels of energy and a fresh perspective by providing a temporary pause to the constant stress of balancing work and family life in a pandemic.

How Can a Mental Health Day Help?

Scheduling a day off ahead of time can help in relieving the stress of taking a day off by ensuring enough time to find replacements or rearranging your workload. Upon taking a mental health day to focus on relieving stress, one can expect to de-stress, organize their emotions, relax, reset their perspective, physically and mentally rest, and/or take a step back to evaluate their current situation.

Make the Most of Your Mental Health Day Off

When taking a mental health day, it is important that one prioritizes their needs based on their current mental and physical condition. It is also necessary to take into consideration what forms of self-care and stress coping mechanisms work best for them. For some individuals this could look like resting in their pajamas and watching mindless TV for hours while for others, it could look like partaking in physical activities such as attending a yoga class, getting a massage, taking a walk, or swimming. Utilizing the tools needed to effectively make successful use of a mental health day is the main goal of taking a break to clear your mind and take time on self-care.

Personal mental health care should be considered a daily priority. Just like our physical health. It is important that we are cognizant of our stress levels or changes to our behavior that might be warning signs for further attention. Mental health days can be useful in giving employees a day off to take a breath – a much-needed break from our everyday stressors. It may also help them evaluate if there are healthy changes that they need to make in their thinking, attitudes, perspectives, and self-care activities to increase both their work performance and personal well-being.

About the Authors

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Yeji Jang, MSW Intern, is a graduate intern at Espyr, working in the Network and Provider Relations Department and with Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer.  A graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, and having worked with immigrant populations, she is currently finishing her last semester at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work. After graduation, Yeji will pursue the goal of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and then wants to practice clinical social work in a behavioral health setting.

Sources

Verywell Mind, When You Should Take a Mental Health Day

https://www.verywellmind.com/when-and-how-to-take-a-mental-health-day-3144754

Employee Benefit News, Many employees are tired of working from home. Here’s what to do about it.

https://www.benefitnews.com/news/many-employees-are-tired-of-working-from-home-heres-what-to-do-about-it?position=editorial_1&campaignname=EBN_Daily_FirstLook_-08132020&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBN_Daily_FirstLook_%2B%27-%27%2B08132020&bt_ee=z04sU0lh6R54Be3tRAGCMSCocVIt35TsgTIilq82Kdk%3D&bt_ts=1597312244717

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

What People With Mental Illness Want You to Know

Mental Illness Awareness Week is October 4 – 10. This week was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress to draw attention to the work of a variety of private and public organizations who educate people and create awareness of mental illness. This year’s theme is “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” I’d like to piggyback on that theme to tell you what I as a mental health professional want you to know.

We Should Talk About Mental Health

First, I want you to know this is a topic that we need to normalize by talking about it. By talking about it as many different conditions – not one singular illness. By recognizing that some illnesses are biologically based. By understanding that in various ways they can affect our thinking, feelings, mood, and behavior. In general, talking about it much as we do in discussing physical health conditions. By doing, do we help confront the social stigma and stereotypes? Stigma and stereotyping delay those with illness and their families from seeking help.

Mental Health Disorders Are Not Uncommon

Second, I want you to know how prevalent mental health disorders are in the U.S., even before the coronavirus pandemic with its enormous emotional toll. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report confirmed the growing evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession are having an unprecedented negative impact on Americans’ mental health, with unpredictable consequences. The KFF tracking poll found that 53% of adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health status had worsened due to worry and stress associated with the ongoing pandemic and economic damage. For many years prior to 2020, studies have shown that about one in five Americans experiences a mental health condition of some type, and one in 25 U.S. adults experience a serious mental illness each year. Many more family members are affected as well.

You may have heard these facts, but you might not be aware that mental illness is an issue for children and young people. One in six children aged 17 and under experience a mental health disorder each year. Fully 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14. Yet many school systems are poorly resourced and equipped to provide early screening and referral for children and teens.

Causes of Mental Illnesses

Third, I also want you to know this about the causes of mental illnesses. Just like physical illnesses, there are multiple causes of mental disorders and they affect all classes, all groups, all zip codes, all red states, and all blue states. A person’s genetics, their early living environment, family circumstances, their social conditions like poverty or discrimination, and many other factors play a role in development of a mental illness. A stressful job, or an unloving family life may also create risk. Experiencing traumatic events like child abuse or neglect, intimate partner abuse, trauma in war, daily microaggressions related to gender, race or ethnicity, or brain injuries also put people at risk. But in short, no one, no family, no society is immune.

Treatment for Behavioral Health Disorders

Finally, I’d like you to know some uplifting news. Treatment for behavioral health disorders has never been more effective than it is today. New pharmaceuticals and evidence-based talk therapies are making their impact. Social stigma around the issue is diminishing, especially among younger people. Access channels like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are common and Student Assistance Programs (SAP) are gaining traction. Both are prevention, education and early case finding and advocacy resources. Speaking of EAPs and SAPs, October is a good time to visit with your programs. Understand what they are doing to provide an easily accessible channel to help those in need to get started on a path to treatment. And while you are at it, ask about what they can do to help you educate and build resiliency in the other 80% who will not experience a mental health condition this year, but who are experiencing all the unusual stressors that have come with 2020.

One last thought. A great way for you personally or for your work organization to get involved in advocacy for people with mental illness and their families is to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Sources

National Alliance for Mental Illness
www.nami.org

The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Kaiser Family Foundation
Nirmita Panchal, et al

https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm?s_cid=mm6932a1_w

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

COVID-19 Pandemic and College Life: What Colleges Can Do to Address Student Mental Health Needs

COVID-19 has created a profound effect on all aspects collegiate life and especially on student mental health. It has brought upon a multitude of social, psychological, and safety challenges for students, on top of the high levels of stress that college students are already facing – even in the best of times. For many, the transition from campus life to remote learning has called for many academic, social, and personal changes for most college students – testing students’ ability to cope with change. It is important that colleges and universities continue to monitor and assess the mental health of students as the nation continues to progress through changes.

Here are recommendations scholars who study student mental health recently made on how schools should address the mental health challenges for students brought on by the pandemic.

Continue student advising via telecommunication means. Expand virtual office hours to create easy access for students who are experiencing the normal stress of college life in addition to the irregular learning environment brought about by COVID-19.

Reduce student stress. By taking a creative and flexible approach to Internship opportunities given the new environment.

Help students adapt research projects to the new normal environments. Encourage university career centers to adopt virtual services to assist students in the economic downturn.

University counseling centers should set up options to continue providing college students with counseling services at a distance (i.e., tele mental health counseling). Tele mental health has been found effective in treating anxiety and depressive symptoms and implementing tele mental health will facilitate the delivery of counseling services to address students’ pressing mental health concerns.

• University counseling centers should also provide options for students to join online support groups that enable them to share common concerns and receive social support. Further, university counseling centers and other departments should develop and pass public health messaging onto students, sharing coping resources, and encouraging them to take action to protect their mental health and wellbeing.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Source

Addressing collegiate mental health needs amid COVID-19 pandemic

Psychiatry Res. 2020 Jun; 288: 113003.

Published online 2020 Apr 17. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113003

PMCID: PMC7162776

PMID: 32315885

Yusen Zhaia,? and Xue Dub

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7162776/

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

College Students – A Vulnerable Population for Suicide and Mental Health Issues

September is suicide awareness month. One alarming aspect of suicide is its frequency among young people, particularly college students. Defined as self-injurious behavior aimed at causing one’s death, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people. Annually about 1,000 college students take their own lives. Thousands of their family members are affected by these deaths. Fellow students and faculty are traumatized, and campus life is disrupted. Thousands more commit non-fatal acts of self-harm to deal with extreme emotional pain.

September is also a month when all of America’s colleges and universities are back in session with in-person classes, virtual classes, or some combination of the two. Many continue to offer non-traditional, exclusively on-line programs of study for students who can earn degrees entirely via on-line instruction. But for many traditional college students in their late teens and early twenties returning to college is an emotional adjustment and challenge to their wellbeing. Many of these young people are often away from home, family, and friends for the first time – losing connection to the emotional support system they have known all their lives. They’re living with strangers, in a new setting, and working under intense pressure to achieve. Many have had limited experience with the new autonomy that comes with college life. Autonomy that also brings easier access to alcohol and illegal drugs, and new peer pressure. Their ability to adjust to change is challenged. Their interpersonal skills are tested as they develop a new social support system. They must learn to manage stress in this new environment while often coping with loneliness. They do all this with disrupted sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns. Now add in COVID-19. One can hardly imagine a more stressful situation for young people with limited life experience. This adjustment is made much more difficult for about one-fifth of students – those with some underlying mental health or substance abuse condition.

Obviously, college students are a vulnerable population. Vulnerable for suicide as proven by their high rate of death from that cause. But also vulnerable for mental health and substance abuse conditions in general. Especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic with its unusual and additional stresses. College administrators realize their responsibility for student’s mental health and safety but are faced with the dual challenge of reduced budgets and implementing COVID-19 precautions. What can they do to improve student access to mental health and preventative services and to ensure students’ wellbeing? Here are some suggestions:

  • Survey students and parents. Ask them about their mental health issues, needs, and expectations for campus support.
  • Provide accessible campus wellness activities. Activities that build resilience in students and normalize mental health on par with physical health.
  • Provide easy access to behavioral health screening services. Ones that also provide easy access to counselors.
  • Review on-campus student counseling center’s services, hours of operation, and accessibility. Is there a “waiting list” for services? Is 24/7 access to a counselor available for students with urgent needs? Are services being delivered in culturally competent way?
  • Train students, faculty, administrators, staff, and campus police in mental health first aid.
  • Offer a comprehensive suicide awareness and prevention program for students.
  • Engage rising first-year student early on with supportive services. Services that help him/her bridge the social and emotional transition from high school to college.
  • Include mental health of students in on-line educational programs. (There are about 500 nationally.) Do these students have equal access to your institution’s mental health services? Are their unique needs being addressed?
  • If you have fiduciary responsibilities for student and faculty health and wellbeing, examine your own attitudes and beliefs about sensitive issues like mental health, suicide, and emotional wellbeing. Make sure you recognize your own biases (it’s okay, we all have biases) and recognize how they influence your actions.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Sources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm?s_cid=mm6932a1_w

Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69:57–62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1external icon.

Suicide is the Second Leading Cause of Death Among College Students

https://www.safecolleges.com/suicide-second-highest-cause-of-death-among-college-students/

National Center For Education Statistics

https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/tables/201314_Virtual_Schools_table_3.asp

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Out With The Old, In With The New. What That Means For Mental Health Care.

If you’re an employer or in HR at your company, you may have noticed something disturbing in your company’s health care expenses.  Expenses for mental health care are going up.  That trend started happening prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic has just added fuel to the fire.

What you may not have noticed is that mental health issues are affecting other expenses as well.  One of those expenses is the cost related to employee turnover.  According to a 2019 study by Mind Share Partners, Qualtrics and SAP, half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left a job for mental health reasons.  And that was before the extraordinary levels of stress and anxiety being reported since the beginning of the pandemic.  

Why am I just referring to millennials and Gen Z ? Because the incidence of mental health problems with these generations is much higher than all prior generations.  As these generations become a larger segment of the workforce, the expense burden of mental health care will get heavier for businesses to bear.

Let’s look at what’s behind this trend and what employers need to do about it.

Mental Health Care and Younger Generations

As reported last year by CNBC, the Mind Share Partners study was one of many studies that shows that the younger generations suffer more from mental illnesses.  Per the CNBC report, younger people dealt with a mental illness at about three times the rate of the general population. The findings are corroborated by another recent study, which shows that while the amount of serious psychological distress increased across most age groups, the largest increase between 2008 and 2017 was among adults ages 18–25, at 71%. For adults ages 20–21, the figure was 78%.

Another recent study, by the American Psychological Association, found the percentage of young adults experiencing certain types of mental health disorders has increased significantly in the past decade. In particular, the percentage of people dealing with suicidal thoughts increased 47 percent from 2008 to 2017.

Why Are Younger Generations Experiencing More Mental Health Issues?

There is no agreement among experts as to the reason for this troubling trend. Here are three different opinions from an author, research professor and psychologist who have studied the subject.

As reported on CNBC, Jean Twenge, author of iGen, a book about the effect technology has on this generation, says that “the rise of the smartphone and social media have at least something to do with it.”

Twenge noted how teens and young adults are spending less time face-to-face with others and more time on their screens. “The pattern lines up very precisely that the majority of Americans owned a smartphone from the beginning of 2012 to 2013,” she said. She noted that at that time, mental health issues began to spike.

“Less time sleeping, less time on face-to-face interactions is not a formula for better mental health,” added Twenge.

Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, said that it’s not social media or young people’s fractured attention spans that are causing their anxiety; it is school itself.

According to Gray, since the mid-1950s society has gradually taken away children’s internal locus of control (someone with an internal locus of control is likely to believe that both successes and failures are due to their own efforts).

As a result, many young people today are lost. “Since the mid-1950s, when they began taking  away children’s play, people haven’t learned to take control of their own lives.” Gray said that control is essential to ward off excessive anxiety.

A third perspective comes from Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist.  Haidt and Greg Lukianoff explored the subject in  The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Lukianoff noticed that many Generation Z college students seemed to hold beliefs that make them vulnerable to depression and anxiety—beliefs that often fly in the face of the best-tested wisdom from the ancients. “The small percentage of ideas that came down to us from the ancients came through a filtering process where only the best, most resonant, most helpful ideas made it down through thousands of years,” said Haidt.

Haidt cited the “Three Great Untruths” that seem to be driving mental health struggles in Gen Z:

  1. You are fragile. Haidt said it was as though students were led to believe that “if they encountered something that was offensive to them, they would be made weaker by it.” This belief is the opposite of the timeless truth that strength comes through managing life’s challenges, captured in Nietzsche’s maxim, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  2. If you feel it, it must be true. Students seemed to have learned that “they should always trust their feelings,” said Haidt. This belief flies in the face of wise counsel that teaches that our feelings are unreliable sources of information. Learning to question our automatic emotional reactions is an invaluable skill in navigating life, and our relationships in particular.
  3. Life is about Us versus Them. Haidt also said that many students seem to believe “they should see life as a battle between good people”—those who agree with them—”and evil people”—those who hold opposing beliefs.

Taken together, these three beliefs led many students—especially at elite colleges and universities—to see themselves as the fragile protagonists in a battle against evil. Haidt described how these beliefs set up students for depression and anxiety.  “The country is facing rising rates of anxiety, depression and fragility among today’s teens and college students, many of whom have been surrounded by protective adults their entire lives. What will happen when they enter the real world?” Those students studied by Haidt have been entering into the real world as part of your workforce.

What Should Employers Do?

End Mental Health Stigma

First and foremost, employers need to take the lead in reducing the stigma of mental health.  Approximately 40% of people suffering from anxiety or depression don’t come forward for care due to mental health stigma.  Developing a culture of openness and acceptance begins at the top.

Fran Katsoudas, chief people officer at Cisco, recalled that after the deaths of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade last year, the company’s CEO, Chuck Robbins, sent out a company-wide email addressing the issues of mental health and suicide.

Robbins encouraged employees to “talk openly and extend compassion” and asked that they “have each other’s backs.”

Katsoudas said the response from Robbins’ email was unlike anything the company had ever seen before. “This was a conversation that our employees wanted to have — and not only the conversation, but they needed support.”

As a follow up, one of the first things Cisco did was launch #SafetoTalk, which it calls the first virtual community for employees to come forward and connect weekly with others to share their struggles.

Train Managers

Managers need to be trained on mental health awareness.  They need to recognize the danger signs and know what to do if they believe an employee is in trouble.  Your EAP should be able to help you with this and if not call us at Espyr.

Make Mental Health Care Accessible 

According to one survey, 60% of employees fail to use mental health resources available to them by employers.  Much of this may be due to mental health stigma, but there are other factors as well.  Many programs are poorly promoted so that employee awareness is low.   Accessibility is another issue.  Gen Z ,and to a lesser degree millennials, are digital citizens.  Smartphones are their primary means of communication.  Phone, text and video access options need to be available especially during the pandemic when face to face sessions with a mental health coach or counselor may not be practical or even available.

Use Your Available Resources

Most businesses have an EAP or similar program in place.  Be sure that your EAP is eager to support employee engagement.  Many businesses take advantage of free EAPs offered as part of a bundled health benefits package provided by their benefits broker.  Unfortunately, free EAPs can only make money if employee utilization remains low.  Encouraging employees to take advantage of their programs is antithetical to the business operations of these EAPs.  A good EAP will not only welcome higher utilization, it will help you promote it.

About Espyr

Espyr’s innovative mental health counseling, coaching and consulting programs have been helping employees and organizations achieve their full potential for over 30 years. Companies in some of the most stressful occupations rely on Espyr to maintain their employees health and well being.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Burnout printed on burning background

Burned Out From Working From Home? Here’s How to Fix It.

Last year, we wrote about how the World Health Organization had officially classified “Burnout” as a legitimate medical diagnosis beginning in 2020.   Since our post last year, COVID-19 has created the equivalent of a tectonic shift in working by moving huge segments of the work force to work from home.  Has that change in work environment resulted in more burnout or less?  Do people get burned out from working from home? 

Burnout has received more attention over the past few years amid a flurry of reports documenting increasing occurrences across various occupations.  Last year a  Gallup study  of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always.   In high stress occupations, burnout rates can soar even higher.   For instance, a Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey in 2015 reported the rate of physician burnout at 46%.   But, burnout can affect anyone regardless of their occupation.

 

Burnout printed on burning background

The number of people working from home had been steadily growing anyway, but with COVID-19 the percentage skyrocketed. In 2017, 5.2% of US adults worked from home on a regular basis.  In March, 2020, that number had grown to 51% of employed US adults according to a Harris Poll in early April. It’s likely that the work at home number has receded somewhat as employers reopened offices, though the recent spikes across the country in COVID cases may send more workers back home.  Regardless, many Americans’ are still working from home and it’s likely that a significant number of them will continue to work from home even after the pandemic is in our rear view mirror. (Yes, eventually the pandemic will be behind us!)

What is burnout? 

With so many of us working from home, we wondered whether burnout is more or less of an issue than it was a year ago?  To answer that question, let’s first understand what we mean by burnout.  According to the WHO, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The diagnosis is limited to work environments, and shouldn’t be applied to other life situations. 

It’s important to note that burnout is not just a mental health issue.  Major health risks that have been associated with job burnout include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.

Is home a “breeding ground” for burnout?

A recent article by Natasha Hinde in the Huffingtonpost in the U.K. explored the issue of burnout for those working at home.  Hinde found that with “working from home the boundaries between work and personal lives are increasingly blurred. When your laptop is always within reach, it’s all too easy to check emails at 9 or 10 PM and easy to skip lunch when you’re buried in a project.”

“Working from home provides little opportunity for variety in your working day,” says Lucy Fuller, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist. “There’s little chance for face-to-face, non-work social interaction and it comes with an intensity that would usually be broken up by traveling and dawdling on your way to work, in your lunch period and also going to meetings outside your place of work.

“Our days are therefore becoming grey and our brains are burning and clouding from sitting in front of a screen for so long. We’re effectively trapped in this way of work without a definite end point to look forward to.”

Psychotherapist Philip Karahassan, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, doesn’t think people know they can burn out while working from home – “people usually see it as a more relaxing work day, where they can do work at their own pace” – which might mean they’re hurtling headfirst into it.

How to Prevent Burnout

In another blog from last year we wrote about how to prevent burnout.   Our advice last year holds true today regardless of where you’re working.

1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.  Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

2. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  Look into the many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

3. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

4. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

5. Identify a good manager

In the Gallup study on stress and burnout quoted earlier, employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

6. Keep good health habits

The same basic advice that will help in relieving stress is also true for burnout: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.

7. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

To this list, Hinde adds one more piece of advice that is specific to working from home:  setting boundaries.  “Create a specific area just for work and separate from personal life even if it’s only a corner of a room.   Set boundaries with the people around you, too.”  Of course, that can be more challenging with small children at home, but not impossible.   “Make clear what times you’ll be working and when you can spend time with them – and stick to that routine.”

Another great idea that Fuller adds is to think about how to create commute-type divides into your working day. “In normal circumstances we have a natural divide, which is your commute, but we now have to create our own transition,” says Fuller. “This might be doing exercise, putting music on that you love or taking a bath. “Whatever it is, use the activity to shake off your day and draw a line under your work to move into your leisure time.”

What if you already feel burned out?

Between working at home, social isolation and pandemic induced anxiety, we are all facing an unprecedented level of stress.  Your work and your health may be suffering as a result.  What if you’re already burned out from working at home?  Here’s what to do.

Take a break

Stop, get away from your many screens and tell yourself you’re doing a great job.  “Take a break outside of your home environment,” suggests Karahassan.  Go for a walk, preferably outdoors. And if you’re fortunate enough to live near a wooded area or forest, walk there. Exposure to forests strengthens your immune system, reduces blood pressure, increases energy, boosts your mood and helps you regain and maintain focus.  The Japanese call it “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing.” Even 20 minutes in a forested space is enough to produce positive changes in the body. “If you can’t go out, go in the shower, wash your face, just do something for you. That five or 10-minute break can give you the space to reset and take control of your thoughts and feelings,” Karahassan says.

Indulge in something that brings you joy

Take some personal play time.  Reconnect with old friends.  Read a book.  Listen to music.  Whatever it is, “Turn off your work screen and indulge yourself in something that brings you joy,” adds Fuller. “You won’t regret it.”

Take care of yourself physically

Avoid unhealthy vices like smoking and drinking and instead try to do things for your mental wellbeing – do some exercise, connect with loved ones, prioritize self-care, sign up to volunteer, and try to work smarter (not harder), says Hinde.

Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can help you live in the moment rather than thinking about the next Zoom meeting on your calendar. And practicing gratitude can promote feelings of positivity – write down three things that went well today, or for which you’re grateful.

Breathe

Breathing exercises are useful when things feel too much, so take five minutes out of your day, sit comfortably somewhere, and focus on your breath.

If these remedies don’t work, consider consulting with your employer’s EAP or wellness program, or discussing your feelings with your physician.  Don’t try to gut it out alone.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping people achieve and maintain good mental health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s innovative coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy programs to maintain employee health and well-being. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

How Do I Know if I Have PTSD?

We often get asked the question, ” I’m having some of the symptoms of PTSD.  How do I know if I have PTSD?” The only way to know for sure if you have PTSD is to talk to your physician or a mental health care provider. He or she will ask you about your trauma, your symptoms, and any other problems you are having. If you think you might have PTSD, answer the questions in the screening tool below. Keep in mind that this tool is offered for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

PTSD Screening

Sometimes things happen to people that are unusually or especially frightening, horrible, or traumatic. For example, a serious accident or fire, a physical or sexual assault or abuse, an earthquake, flood, tornado or hurricane, a war, seeing someone be killed or seriously injured, or having a loved one die through homicide or suicide.

Have you ever experienced this kind of event? Yes / No

If yes, please answer the questions below.

In the past month, have you:

  • Had nightmares about the event(s) or thought about the event(s) when you didn’t want to?
  • Tried hard not to think about the event(s) or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of the event(s)?
  • Been constantly on guard, watchful, or easily startled?
  • Felt numb or detached from people, activities, or your surroundings?
  • Felt guilty or unable to stop blaming yourself or others for the event(s) or any problems the event(s) may have caused?

If you answered “yes” to 3 or more of these questions, please talk to a mental health care provider to learn more about PTSD and PTSD treatment. Answering “yes” to 3 or more questions does not mean you have PTSD. Only your physician or mental health professional can tell you for sure if this is what you are experiencing.

Also, please keep in mind that regardless of your score on this educational screening, if you are having thoughts and feelings about some recent traumatic event or one that took place long ago and these thoughts and feeling are troubling you, or if you are concerned about your use of alcohol or other drugs, speak with a mental health professional.

June 2020 is PTSD Awareness Month. To learn more about PTSD’s symptoms and its effective treatments, please visit our blog post here, or visit The National Institute of Mental Health or The National Center for PTSD

Educational Survey was adopted from:

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/publications/print/understandingptsd_booklet.pdf

About Espyr

Espyr’s innovative mental health solutions, coaching and assistance programs have been helping employees and organizations achieve their full potential for 30 years. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

How To Realize The Benefits of Mental Health

Our society has come a long way in overcoming the stigma of mental health.  Most people now recognize the importance of mental health and how common mental health disorders are.   However, the the stigma of mental health remains among us.  Furthermore, knowing how to realize the benefits of mental health is still not well understood by many.

Mental Health Awareness Month was conceived for just those purposes – eliminating the stigma of mental health, creating greater awareness of mental health issues and helping people realize the benefits of mental health.

We found a recent article by Kelly Miller, BA, CAPP in PositivePsychology.com especially helpful in addressing all of these issues and a summary of her writing follows.

The Benefits of Mental Health

The benefits of intentionally practicing to improve mental health are a response to the chronic stress reported at epidemic levels around the world. Chronic stress has been proven to deteriorate the hippocampus (McLaughlin, 2007). This stress also leads to decreased concentration and memory, confusion, loss of sense of humor, anger, irritability, and fear. Obviously, stress is not good for the brain, and improved mental health practices can reduce the risk.

Other benefits of mental health include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Reduction in anxiety.
  • Improved moods.
  • Clearer thinking.
  • A greater sense of calm or inner peace.
  • Increased self-esteem.
  • Reduced risk of depression.
  • Improvements in relationships.

The development of practical coping skills has never been more necessitated in this ever-changing world. Rather than continuing to simply soldier on, a focus on thriving through adversity is where mental health benefits can be achieved.

Fitness and Mental Health

Improved mental health has been well documented with the introduction of improved levels of physical fitness.  The fitness industry has decades of research showing the benefits of taking special and intentional care of one’s body. The concept of being mentally healthy is not necessarily new, but it certainly has more areas of growth in scientific research. This is likely because historically, medicine has studied what was wrong so that it could be cured.

A more recent approach to physical and mental well-being has been prevention. Exercise is a preventative activity for both physical and mental health. When you strengthen your body, there is less pain in aging. The same can be said for strengthening our mental health.

Benefits of mental health through physical fitness include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Sharper memory.
  • Clarity in thinking.
  • Higher self-esteem.
  • Better sleep.
  • Increased energy.
  • Stronger resilience.
  • Increased BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which improves neurotransmission.

Counseling

Counseling has, unfortunately, had a stigma attached. The medical model was developed to fix what was “broken.” People receiving counseling are not broken. Human beings are malleable and can rewire themselves. A professional counselor can help with this plasticity by allowing the release of painful or unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

Potential Benefits of Counseling:

  • Improvement in communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Greater self-acceptance.
  • Increased self-esteem.
  • Improved self-expression and management of emotions.
  • Relief from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
  • Clarity.

Coaching

Coaching is another area where practitioners can increase the benefits of mental health. While coaching is not therapy, it can be very therapeutic. Having a trained coach can create areas of growth that clear the way for massive personal improvement.

At Espyr, we’ve seen firsthand the benefits of coaching for many of our clients.  For many clients, counseling is either not necessary or viewed with stigma attached. Coaching is deemed more socially acceptable and fits perfectly  for situations where counseling is not required.

Potential Benefits of Coaching:

  • Learning acceptance and self-appreciation
  • Improved connection with self and others
  • Simplifying life
  • Reduced stress
  • Harmony and peace
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Reduction in isolation
  • Improvements in relationships
  • Improved communication
  • Overcoming procrastination
  • Gaining work and or life satisfaction
  • Increased self-reliance
  • Improved decision making
  • Mindset shifts
  • Increased self-worth
  • Improved time management skills

A Look at the Research

Exercise may be one of the most underused treatments for improving mental health. Research has shown that patients suffering from depressive or anxiety sensitive disorders benefit significantly from increased exercise interventions (Smits, 2008).

The research has not determined which type of exercise is the most beneficial for mental health. Aerobic exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system but also releases serotonin to improve mood. However, weight training and mind spirit practices like yoga show great benefits as well.

Journaling is another powerful tool used as an intervention in many different areas of well being. The benefits can be seen not only in mental, but also physical wellness. Research has shown improvement in breast cancer patient recovery through the use of journaling.

Adolescent use of reflective journaling has shown increases in self-efficacy, self-regulation, and self-motivation. Reflective journaling has also been used to the great benefit of those working to overcome addiction.

The use of a journal offers a space to release inner fears and stress as a reflective process. The reduction of stress and unwanted negative thoughts are benefits that are seen through consistent practice. Journaling has also been proven to improve critical thinking skills.

There is a limited amount of empirical research in the area of coaching. However, concerning men, coaching has had significant forward progress. Men tend to seek help less actively than women (McKelley, 2007) but are more likely to seek coaching due to the reduced stigma attached. While coaching is not therapy, it can benefit participants with clarity, perspective shifts, and improvements to motivation in all areas of life.

5 Things You Can Do To Realize The Benefits Of Mental Health

1. Move your body

If more people knew the benefits of exercise on avoidance of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, more people would be running to join a local gym. Exercise helps increase ROS (reactive oxygen species), resulting in decreases in the incidence of oxidative stress-related diseases (Deslandes, 2009). All disease has links to inflammation. Regular exercise increases the body’s ability to reduce that inflammation, therefore, slowing the aging process.

Start small and grow your exercise practice slowly and consistently. Jumping in with excessive weight training or aerobic exercise can be harmful and lessen the willingness to continue with the practice. A slow, steady increase in levels of activity is highly recommended. Nobody becomes The Rock overnight.

2. Counseling

When thoughts and feelings are interfering with your daily life, advice can be very helpful. Navigating trauma, depression, and anxiety, or other strains on mental health is complicated. Doing it alone makes it even more so. Reaching out for help from a professional doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re ready to start getting stronger.

3. Coaching

People come to coaching for a variety of reasons. Coaches specialize their practices, just as counselors do, to best serve their clients. Seeking the services of a coach can help clients realize their power in their actions and generate motivation to move from A to B, while space is held by a trained professional.

4. Journaling

There are a million ways to start a journaling practice. Keeping track of thoughts, actions, and motivations can be very powerful when actively reflecting on personal change. It helps adults and children alike. It also shines a light on daily actions and whether one is being honest with oneself.

5. 12 Intentional Activities

Engaging in the activities that come most naturally to a practitioner are specific ways to improve mental health. The benefits are outlined in The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubmorisky. The “how” is always an individual approach but highly beneficial when intentionally focused.

  • Savor life
  • Nurture social relationships
  • Express gratitude
  • Commit to your goals
  • Create coping strategies
  • Practice acts of kindness
  • Engage in flow experiences
  • Cultivate optimism
  • Practice spirituality
  • Take care of your mind and body
  • Learn to forgive
  • Avoid over-thinking and social comparison

A Take-Home Message

The first step in realizing the benefits of mental health is recognizing the need for improvement. We all have work to do. There is no human (not even the Dalai Lama) who can say that they have achieved perfection in mental health. All humans face adversity, yet our ability to handle that adversity can grow like a muscle.

The benefits of mental health far outweigh the effort it takes to begin a practice for improvement. Whether it’s grabbing a friend to start a walking practice, or heading off to the store to pick out a notebook to start your journaling practice, you can begin today. We are all one decision away from the many benefits of mental health.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy  programs  to maintain employee health and well-being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.

 

Family enjoying video game together

Maybe It Should Be National Happiness Month

May is national Mental Health Awareness Month.  It’s an opportunity for Americans to become more aware of how important good mental health is to us as individuals and to our society overall.  But how many of us think of mental health that way?  For many, the words mental health have a negative connotation and are often something  people feel uncomfortable talking about.

Let’s think of mental health in a different way.  What if May was Happiness Awareness Month? Now do I have your attention?  Good, because mental health and personal happiness and well-being are connected.  Personal investments in our mental health pay personal happiness dividends, while investments in mental health by employers, colleges and public policy makers pay societal dividends.  

Mental Health Basics

So let’s all get on the same page when we talk about mental health. 

First, it’s a part of all of us. Mental health is a term that includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life and life’s age-old companion, “stress”.  Importantly, it also helps determine how we handle these inevitable stresses, how we relate to our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, classmates and others,  the choices we make, how productive we are academically and in our occupations and professions as we strive to reach our full potential. Mental health is vitally important at every stage of life, from childhood to old age.

Mental Health vs. Mental Disorders

Second, while mental health is not an illness condition, mental disorders are.  Mental health disorders are common, affecting about 1 in 5 Americans annually, while nearly 3 out of 4 adults report at least one stress-related symptom (like stress induced headaches or feelings of being overwhelmed or of being very lonely). They can also be serious conditions that affect our mood, distort our thinking and change our behavior. They can be influenced by our particular life circumstances- like growing up in poverty or being a survivor of childhood trauma or intimate partner violence or experiencing unexpected life events like a divorce or sudden job loss.   They affect all ages, genders, races and socio-economic groups.  Only a narcissist thinks themselves invulnerable. And that’s a mental health condition too!

 

Sad looking woman

 

The Consequences of Poor Mental Health

Thirdly, poor mental has many negative consequences for individuals, economies and societies. One consequence is the impact on our physical health. Poor mental health increases one’s risk for Cancer, Heart ailments, Strokes, Diabetes and many other conditions.  These are costly conditions to treat and often diminish one’s happiness and quality of life.  One condition, Major Depression, is highly associated with suicide, the second leading cause of death among young people.  More Americans commit suicide each year than all who die in motor vehicle accidents or by gun violence.  

 

Mental Health conditions also often co-occur with medical conditions.  The mental health condition frequently complicates treatment plans and compliance with medical treatment.  The costs of medical treatment for patients with both serious mental health and physical conditions is 2 to 3 times higher than those without co-occurring conditions. Aside from the human suffering, these financial costs are borne by individuals through high out-of-pocket expenses and higher healthcare insurance rates, by employers who provide healthcare benefits to employees and pay taxes, and by taxpayers who pay for Medicaid and Medicare benefits.  There is a myriad of other consequences of poor mental health.  These  include the negative impacts on one’s livelihood or business, on our academic achievements, and on our ability to be productive member of society.

 

Maintaining Good Mental Health In The Time of COVID-19

Back to Happiness… there is a lot of good news even in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many things we can each do to promote and sustain our mental health and that of our children and loved ones. These include making time for regular exercise (this is a great stress reduction tool), practicing mindfulness and gratitude, making sure to make time to enjoy relaxation, hobbies or activities, staying connected to friends and social and spiritual groups ( while maintaining social distancing of course), and moderating your exposure to media and the 24/7 news cycle.

 

Family enjoying video game together

 

Good News For Those Experiencing Emotional Distress

Modern evidence-based treatments have never been more effective and available than today. Resources such as a healthcare provider, primary care doctor or mental health therapist can provide consultation and treatment. Employee Assistance Programs and hotlines help connect people to the right treatment resources. Self Help and Support groups of various kinds, as well online resources and helpful mental health apps have proliferated.  Many businesses, like Kaiser Permanente for instance, are taking a lead in promoting good mental health practices in the workplace and in normalizing discussions of mental health just as happens with physical health.  School systems have adopted anti-bullying initiatives. Colleges provide Student Assistance Programs to support student health and address the crisis of suicide in young adults.  The list goes on and on.  

Still, more awareness and sensitivity to mental health issues is needed and Mental Health Awareness Month is a great step toward that goal.   If you know someone that is struggling with stress, depression or anxiety, be aware that you may be their best resource.  You do not have to be a mental health professional nor offer solutions.  Just be a trusted listener who first asks, “How are you doing, and can we talk about it”?  Your supportive questions and compassionate listening may well help that person take their first step to getting the help they need.

Here is a list of some of the many free resources or sources of more information about Mental Health.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy  programs  to maintain employee health and well-being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.