Trimming the Budget? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Drop the Ball on Mental Healthp

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By Courtney Connley

Despite increased awareness about the business impact of mental health, studies show that traditional corporate cultures still make the topic taboo to discuss at work. Today, 73% of employees have a mental health disorder, yet just 27% say they’ve disclosed their diagnosis to their employer, according to The Bowman Foundation.

“The stigma is still there, even though many organizations are aware that over the pandemic there was a 25% increase of people who were diagnosed with mental health conditions,” says Chief Member Natasha Bowman, Founder of The Bowman Foundation, which offers workplace mental health training for leaders. As an HR executive and former labor employment attorney, she explains that “we used to discourage these conversations because we were risk-averse. We were afraid that a manager may say the wrong thing and therefore get us into legal trouble.” But today, Bowman says, “I’ve retracted on that and believe that we should create safe spaces and dialogue for conversations around mental health.”

In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, we look at how despite the current economic downturn, now is not the time to drop the ball on mental health benefits. Bowman shares how now more than ever, we need leaders to prioritize mental health resources for staff in order to create a work environment that’s sustainable and healthy in the long-run.

Be Aware of Organizational Triggers

Bowman says that a common misconception about promoting mental wellness is that you need a lot of financial resources behind your efforts. However, in times like today where executives are figuring out how to cut costs in order to prepare for the future, she says one of the easiest ways to foster a healthy mental workplace is to examine your company’s culture.

“Are there some blind spots in your organization that may be triggering mental health issues,” she says leaders should ask themselves. “For your employees, are they being burned out? Are they overworked? Do you have boundaries set in place? Is there a culture of civility and respect and is it an inclusive culture?”

Even if you are in a position to pour financial resources behind extra programs and benefits, Bowman says it’s still imperative to analyze your company’s policies and practices to ensure there isn’t anything negatively impacting an individual’s mental well-being. If there are, then even a big budget for mental health services won’t be enough to retain top talent.

Implement the C.A.R.E Model

Another free and easy way to support mental wellness at work is to implement a model that Bowman refers to as the CARE model.

“The ‘C’ is for showing concern,” she says. “When someone comes to you and expresses that they're struggling with their mental health, don't dismiss a conversation, engage in that conversation in a respectful way. The ‘A’ is awareness and being aware of your organizational triggers. The ‘R’ is reflecting on your own behaviors and what you would need. And the ‘E’ is for empathy.”

When considering the CARE model, Bowman encourages leaders to think about the type of support and encouragement they would need if they were in an employee’s shoes. “Just take a moment and ask, What would help me to continue to be able to excel in my role? What resources would I need? What would I need from my manager or from the organization? For some, this might include more flexible working hours or the ability to work from home. For others, this might mean a day off to tend to your mental health. But regardless, Bowman says there are several avenues of support that leaders can offer that don’t require financial backing.

Partner With a Nonprofit

If you realize that your current medical benefits are lacking on mental health resources, then Bowman says partnering with a nonprofit could be a great alternative if you don’t have the money to expand coverage.

Today, she says, there are several free hotlines that employees can call into and several nonprofit organizations that offer free resources and therapy sessions for those in need. For example, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has free webinars on YouTube that feature psychologists and mental health clinicians talking about challenging life problems and solutions for overcoming them. And this past summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created a shorter, three-digit number, 988, that individuals can use to easily access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“Not only does sharing resources and partnering with nonprofits give employee’s access to treatment, but it embraces the stigma because we're continuing to talk about it and we're continuing to acknowledge that you may need help and we are offering as many resources as we possibly can to you,” says Bowman.

Avoid Punishing Employees Who Disclose Their Diagnosis

According to The Bowman Foundation, fear of retaliation is one of the biggest concerns for why employees don’t reveal their mental health condition, with some employees having experienced reduced job assignments, less visibility on projects, unfavorable performance reviews, isolation, or micromanagement from their boss.

“A common misconception that we often think is that, Oh, if you have a mental health condition, or if I'm talking to you about my mental health, then I'm lowkey telling you it's something I can't do with my job,” Bowman says. But, with mental health impacting everyone regardless of background or rank in a company, it’s imperative for executives to know that this misconception is far from the truth. “You still can accomplish, meet, and exceed the expectations of your job even if you’re struggling with your mental health,” says Bowman. “You may just need some additional resources or support.”

One way to offer this support and to break away from the fear of retaliation is for leaders to transparently talk about their own experience with mental health, whether it be via a personal encounter or that of a friend or family.

Leaders are not excluded from being diagnosed with a mental health disorder,” says Bowman. “So once we see leaders openly talking about their struggles or the struggles of their loved ones, then that's when we will see the doors open for others to be able to talk about it too.”

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