As a practicing therapist and cofounder of a mental health start-up, I am constantly analyzing the ways in which people are managing their mental health and wellbeing, particularly in times of crisis.

My team speaks directly with human resource leads and founders on a weekly basis to discuss their landscape of mental health offerings and how employees are interacting with them. Companies saw a major toll on the overall mental health and wellbeing of employees as the Coronavirus pandemic forced many people to begin working from home and navigate a “new normal.”

What have we learned from these conversations is that not only are employees treading water, HR teams have found themselves ill equipped to support a growing employee mental health crisis. The alluring benefit of unlimited PTO and strong health insurance packages are inconsequential if there is no time or motivation to utilize those benefits. Kids are in virtual school, parents are working full time, they are trying to connect with their partners, maybe they are also a caretaker for an elderly parent while balancing it all.

What employees really need is time. 

Without it, the concept of self-care sounds like a nice-to-have when in reality it’s a need-to-have. 

Throughout my years as a therapist, I’ve worked with many clients who have felt overrun, taken advantage of, or neglected by their employers and it’s not uncommon for people to struggle with managing work life balance. This year’s sudden work-from-home culture has blurred the boundaries even more and amplified issues related to time management, setting limits on working hours, and asking for what you need from your coworkers and supervisors. 

When working with therapy clients, my primary goal isn’t to make people more productive workers but there’s no denying the clear correlation between your capacity to do your job efficiently and your mental wellbeing. A study led by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit shows the benefits of providing resources and encouraging employees to take time for mental wellbeing. Not only is it better for company morale, it improves the bottom line.

It is not surprising that the shared experiences of major losses, chaos, and uncertainty in 2020 has led to increased mental health issues. A Census Bureau survey found that one in three Americans are now reporting symptoms of depression or anxiety – more than three times the rate from a similar survey conducted in the first half of 2019. While fluctuations in sense of wellbeing based on life stressors are part of the normative human experience, mental health is often stigmatized and considered taboo, attaching shame and blame to mental illness. 

Taking care of our mental well-being is more essential now than ever. And for companies, that means taking the lead to break down the stigma and implement programs and resources to support employees’ mental health. 

Proactive Care is the Best Mental Healthcare 

It is inescapable that mental health impacts every aspect of our lives, and yet we often minimize the significance of taking active care of our mental wellness. Understanding, setting, and maintaining boundaries is probably the most significant focus in my clinical practice. Setting boundaries applies to every aspect of your life and starts with understanding what you need in a given situation or relationship in order to function optimally. 

If we’re spending more time than ever in our work environments, by nature of work now headquartered in our homes, there’s an opportunity, even a responsibility, on employers to be leaders in this movement of addressing, prioritizing and carving out time for mental wellness. 

Where to Start 

Tips For Companies To Take The First Step and Embrace Mental Health In Company Culture

Don’t assume your employees will ask for what they need.
The competitive nature of the workplace and cultural beliefs associating “asking for help” with weakness or failure work against employees. When it comes to thinking about the long term impacts of overworking and burnout offering unlimited PTO is not the same message as strongly urging employees to proactively take time to prioritize your mental health. Be the leader, start the conversation.

Listen and learn. 

For employers who may be addressing mental health with employees for the first time, it’s important to take the first step of listening in order to truly understand where support is needed. Consider introducing culture surveys and mental-health check-ins where employees can anonymously submit their answers. 

Hold space for productive dialogue and offer resources. 

Normalize conversations around mental health. Lean into options like partnering with mental health companies who can provide helpful resources and access to mental health experts. 

Endorse mental health initiatives & respect privacy.
Introduce your own “Recharge Day” or join growing movements like “National Day of Unplugging” and the “Mental Health Hour”, giving employees time back in their day to recharge and pay attention to their mental wellbeing. However the employee chooses to use their time should not be regulated by the company. Empower employees to determine what they need for their mental wellbeing during this time.

Lead by example.  

You can’t pour from an empty cup. Task leaders within your company, from the executive level down, to demonstrate the values that you’re purporting in your workplace. Take ownership of your responsibilities and actions, set healthy boundaries, and demonstrate the importance of engaging in self-care.

It’s clear that the mental health crisis in America is continuing to mount, and the time is now for a call to action. As World Mental Health Day as the jumping off point, our team at Frame is challenging founders, brands, and businesses to start here: Introduce a “Mental Health Hour”, one hour of paid time per week given back to team members to use as they wish to take charge of their mental health and wellbeing. 

If we want to see positive change, we need time and support to do the work. Mental wellness deserves at least 60 minutes a week, don’t you agree?