A Group of Employees Hugging Outside, Viewed from Behind. One of them has Purple Hair.

Last Sunday was World Mental Health Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues around the world and to mobilize resources in support of mental health. It’s a relative newcomer to global days – first celebrated in 1992. While certainly awareness has increased since then, this year’s theme about inequality shows there is still a long way to go. As the UK organization Rethink Mental Illness states, “For those of us experiencing mental illness, we live in an unequal world. There’s no two ways about it. Stigma. Discrimination. Lack of support. Limited access to housing, employment and welfare. It doesn’t make for good reading.”

It may be an unequal world, but in the pandemic, it’s a world that more than 40% of Americans are part of, a 3X increase since 2019. That’s the number of people, who in a regular diagnostic assessment conducted every quarter by the CDC met the criteria for having anxiety, depression or other mental health disorder. Among young people ages 18-29, the number has reached a staggering 57%. As the pandemic has gone on, it’s also gotten worse — not better.

So if you lead any sort of organization – from a company to a school to a family – most likely someone in your tribe is struggling. You may be struggling. The challenge we face is determining when it’s just a bad mood and when it’s depression. When it’s the normal stress we face when we experience change and when it’s clinical anxiety. Short online diagnostic quizzes can help you or someone you care about sort that out. Here is one for depression and one for anxiety.

What else can you do to support your people right now?

1) Provide employee mental health benefits

Most importantly, make sure your health insurance covers mental health. In addition, many employees are working longer hours in the pandemic. WeSpire joined companies ranging from Johnson & Johnson to Hubspot to Nike in offering recharge days this year. By offering this time off, you acknowledge that effort, but also the toll that it takes. While a day off will not treat depression and anxiety, it can reduce burnout and acknowledges the importance of caring for our brains, not just our bodies.

2) Talk openly about mental health

Part of reducing the stigma about mental health is making it as common to talk about as physical health. Yet most employees say that leaders don’t talk about mental health and they want them to start. You can do this by sharing that you have a therapy appointment, just like you would say you had a doctor’s appointment. You can promote available services, like Employee Assistance Programs, and encourage people to take advantage of them. Most powerfully, if you have suffered yourself, is sharing your story.

3) Encourage habits that benefit mental health

Regular exercise, expressing gratitude, and spending time in nature are three proven strategies for supporting mental health. As a leader you can encourage people to take breaks and go outside. You can run mental and physical wellbeing challenges and campaigns and actively participate. You can encourage people to express gratitude about something in a meeting.

Most importantly, speak up if you see someone in your tribe who seems to be suffering. Many people are still relatively isolated from family and friends. As a colleague, you may see people more than anyone else in their lives. Expressing concern for their well being could be the catalyst someone needs to get help.

Quote of the Week: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

Kahlil Gibran

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