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The last few years have been tiring for all of us, as we’ve navigated a barrage of new and acute stressors. In 2020, CDC research showed many Americans had reached a breaking point, with 41% of adults reporting struggles with mental health. Two years later, these numbers have reached new heights as the number of stressors increase daily with no end in sight.
Fortunately, during this time we’ve also seen a shift in conversation. More employers have begun to prioritize mental health, not only because it’s the right thing to do for employees, but also it’s good for business. Mental health is an early indicator — the canary in the coal mine, if you will — that all employers need to pay attention to in order to prevent putting their employees and businesses at risk. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Health of Massachusetts found that employees with depression report on average 5.6 hours per week of lost time, representing a serious erosion of productive capacity, and Harvard Business Review found that workplace stress costs U.S. companies $190 billion every year.
As leaders, it’s our responsibility to create environments that foster the productivity, performance and happiness of our employees. And as executive leaders, that means we can’t settle for temporary fixes to help our workforces weather today’s storms — we need to commit to proactive, preventative, long-term solutions to help them become healthier and more resilient.
As leaders, here is how we can help:
I founded Modern Health in 2017 to destigmatize and increase access to mental health by empowering employers to lead the charge in acknowledging that mental health is just as important as physical health.
One of the most common misconceptions is that our mind and body are separate. In my opinion, that’s not correct! Our mental and physical health are inextricably linked, with studies showing that one ailment can lead to another. For example, people with depression are at higher risk for other medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) puts it perfectly by stating that “there is no health without mental health.”
If leaders have not already taken steps to support the mental health of their employees, then they are probably already considering or looking for another job. With the demand for talent rising, employees are well positioned to look for more in their workplace. We conducted a study that found that 64% of manager and non-manager employees rank a flexible and supportive culture over a higher salary and are prepared to change jobs to find it.
One of the biggest mental health challenges for those seeking help is access. There is a shortage of clinically trained therapists, despite a rising demand, so individuals looking for mental health support are relegated to putting themselves on long waiting lists to get help. Making matters even worse is the fact that many therapists don’t accept insurance, creating an additional financial barrier. This results in care being given to those who can afford it rather than those who have a clinical need leaving many to either pay high premiums, or even worse, neglect mental health support altogether.
But they need to know there are other solutions out there, and we as leaders have the responsibility to make those resources available and accessible. For example, educate your employees about the different options of care available whether that’s an Employee Assistance Program, publicly available resources, or a comprehensive mental health platform, like Modern Health. Unless they have an acute mental health condition, most people can benefit from alternative resources like mindfulness techniques, group sessions and coaching. Our mental health ebbs and flows over time and our needs and preferences will often change.
As a leader, I try my best to lead with vulnerability and transparency. I want my employees to know that they are not the only ones dealing with the ebbs and flows of mental health conditions–their CEO is too.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we experienced a surge of interest as companies looked for different platforms to support their employee’s mental wellbeing. It was an amazing moment of growth for us and an opportunity to help people at scale, but after a few weeks, I realized that in order to help others we had to prioritize our own health. I found myself staring at an email for hours struggling to finish it. I was burnt out and had been so focused on supporting those in need that I hadn’t prioritized my own self care. If I was feeling that way, I knew all of my colleagues were too. It was at that point that I closed my laptop in the middle of the afternoon and went on a run to clear my head, something very out of character given a busy calendar. When I got to my computer, I immediately penned a note to our team sharing my feeling of burnout and reminded our entire team that we had to pace ourselves and take care of our own mental health first as this pandemic was going to be around for a while. I’m not sure at that point I had even predicted just how long that would be!
I have always spoken about my mental health openly with employees to normalize the conversation, proudly blocking time in my calendar for coaching and therapy and encouraging others to do the same. It is not a weakness and we need more leaders to be authentic about our own struggles so our colleagues feel empowered to also proactively prioritize their mental health every single day and get the support they need.
The decisions we make today will impact the health of our employees and businesses for years to come. Rather than avoiding the canary in the coal mine, tackle it head on with the resources your employees need before it’s too late.
founder and CEO,