Why Associations Need to Improve Their Approach to Mental Health

A new report on mental health in the workplace finds that workers are experiencing more mental health distress. For associations looking to address the issue, it begins with leaders advocating for mental health and putting resources behind it.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been an increased focus on mental health. A new report from Mind Share Partners shows the negative impact the pandemic has had on workers’ mental health and offers some advice on how employers can help.

According to the “2021 Mental Health at Work Report,” 76 percent of workers experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in 2021, up from 59 percent in 2019. The most common symptoms were burnout (56 percent), depression (46 percent), and anxiety (40 percent). The symptoms weren’t short-term either: 80 percent of workers said their symptoms lasted a month or more, and 36 percent said their symptoms lasted five months to a year.

That’s why supporting mental health in workplaces is something that employers can and should do. The first step is looking at the problem in a holistic way.

“Historically, we thought about supporting mental health in very individual ways—such as providing therapy or the more common mental health day,” said Bernie Wong, manager of research and design at Mind Share Partners. “Increasingly, we are really encouraging organizations to think from a systems and culture level.”

How Employers Can Help

For associations looking to improve their approach to mental health, Wong said there are a couple of broad items to begin with.

“One is a bit more public facing: leaders really advocating for mental health and really normalizing mental health as an everyday experience that many people go through,” Wong said. “This can look like sharing their own story to simply verbal encouragement.”

The second approach focuses on resources. “Really prioritizing the budget for mental health or making sure there’s a steering committee committed to and accountable to those activities internal in their organization,” Wong said.

While having top leaders be supportive is important, it’s also key to empower people managers at every level to have open conversations about mental health and the team dynamic.

“Managers really have a lot of control over the experience of work itself within their teams,” Wong said. “So, conversations around working norms or even checking in proactively in an intentional way can do a lot for individual employees to make sure that their experience of work is positive, especially amidst remote working and even return-to-office conversations.”

When organizations look at employee mental health as something they can collectively work to improve, they can take on a proactive role to head off problems.

“It’s important to go beyond noticing the signs and symptoms of mental health burnout and averting crises,” Wong said. “We encourage a proactive approach around creating a culture where it’s safe and supportive around mental health and [where] individual employees who may want to share or seek support can do so safely in an encouraging and empowered way.”

One way to support mental health proactively is through check-ins, where managers find out how things are going with their employees.

“Checking in isn’t just simply checking in,” Wong said. “It’s communicating value. It’s creating opportunities for individual employees to share, because bringing it up yourself can be challenging. And also checking in doesn’t have to be so explicit around mental health; we don’t need to share our deepest-darkest challenges every time there’s a check-in. Most of the time check-ins will look very anticlimactic.”

While mental health concerns affect all employees, there are some differences among groups, and it’s important for associations to take that into consideration when planning their efforts to address mental health.

“We think of mental health as a diversity, equity, and inclusion issue,” Wong said. “We found that certain groups like caregivers, the LGBTQ+ community, Black, and LatinX employees face greater mental health challenges and are more likely to report work and the workplace as having a negative impact on their mental health.”

Being sure to support all employees will be crucial, as many employees are seeing a supportive mental health environment as a requirement to staying at their job. “How an employer organization decides to prioritize and support employees will really drive many of the attrition rates for the general wellbeing of their employees,” Wong said. “It’s important that any organization explores different strategies. For example, if you have a mental health day, who takes advantage of that? And then make sure they pursue those strategies that are inclusive for people.”

What is your association doing to address your staff’s mental health? Share in the comments.

(Pogonici/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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