Mental Health Awareness: Top 10 Things Employers Can Do

Oct 18, 2021 2:16:59 PM
Mental Health Awareness: Top 10 Things Employers Can Do - featured image

What is World Mental Health Day?

People sometimes joke about needing to take a “mental health day.” Usually it’s a code phrase for taking a day off for taking it easy, playing hooky, or getting some much needed rest. However, in reality, a mental health day isn’t a laughing matter. It’s a real observance day that wasn’t created by Hallmark to sell more greeting cards.

World Mental Health Day began on October 10, 1992 as an annual activity of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), an international membership organization focused on bringing awareness to mental health and preventing mental and emotional disorders, properly  treating and caring for people living with mental disorders.

Each year WFMH selects a theme to be promoted in its annual planning kit which is available in several languages to interested organizations around the world. This year’s theme, Mental Health in an Unequal World, is intended to shine a light on disparities in the provision of mental health services along demographic, geographic, and socio-economic lines.

 

So, what is mental illness?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines mental illnesses as “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior (or a combination of these). They are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities.”

Mental illness is more common than most people think. According to the APA, nearly 20%of adults in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness, 4% have a serious mental illness (such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and/or bipolar disorder), and almost 9% have a diagnosable substance use disorder.

Given these statistics, it’s highly likely that you as a healthcare leader know someone with mental illness, including members of your staff, especially given the added stresses of the COVID pandemic.

 

Why is mental health awareness important?

As we know, the pandemic has impacted people’s physical and mental health.  In fact, experts posit that the mental impacts of the pandemic are more widespread than the physical toll. Even those who haven’t contracted the virus have still had to deal with fear, stress, and anxiety related to their health, employment, finances, their family’s well-being, and so much more.

The stark reality is that the implications of mental illness don’t just affect the person with the disorder. Consider these alarming 2021 statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

  • At least 8.4 million people in the US provide care to an adult with a mental or emotional health issue, spending an average of 32 hours per week providing unpaid care.
  • Mental illness and substance abuse disorders are involved in 1 out of every 8 ER visits (approx. 12 million adult visits annually).
  • Mood disorders are the most common cause of hospitalization for people under the age of 45 in the U.S. (excluding hospital visits related to pregnancy and childbirth).
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S, with the overall suicide rate in the U.S. alone increasing by 35% since 1999.
  • 90% of people who die by suicide had shown prior symptoms of a mental health condition.

 

And it gets worse as it hits closer to home…

Nurses and other healthcare workers are reportedly experiencing significant mental health challenges. A recent study from the University of Michigan found that female nurses are about twice as likely to commit suicide than the general female population and 70% more nurses are likely to die by suicide than female physicians. 

While a lot of attention has been paid to physician’s health, the UofM study suggests that the mental health needs of nurses haven’t been getting as much attention. With approximately 3 million nurses working in the U.S., 85% of the country’s largest healthcare workforce are women. To make matters worse, the study was conducted just before the pandemic, so it doesn’t account for the extraordinary demands placed on female nurses due to the pandemic, from homeschooling to caring for family members, and everything in between.

 

How can employers help promote mental health awareness?

The collective mental health of people around the world during these challenging times may be more important than it’s ever been. As leaders, doing all we can to create and maintain safe working environments that help to minimize, not exacerbate, the stress our staff are facing is critical. Creating an organizational culture that supports staff is just as important as creating a calm, supportive, healthy environment for patients, residents, and other customers. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the workplace is an optimal setting to support health, including mental health, for several reasons. The CDC cites the availability of communication structures already in place, centralized policies and procedures, availability of social support networks, the opportunity to offer incentives to reinforce healthy behaviors, and utilizing internal data to track progress and measure the impact of employee health-related programs as being key variables supporting mental health. 

While mental health awareness in your organization needs to be a year-round priority, here are a few things employers can do to increase awareness by promoting this year’s World Mental Health Day on October 10th and after.

 

 10 Things Employers Can Do

  1. Increase awareness through your organization’s social media channels.
    Show your organization’s commitment to mental health by commemorating World Mental Health Day on your social media platforms. A set of social media graphics promoting World Mental Health Day are available for download from the World Health Organization (WHO). Not sure what to post? Free images and/or quotes that can be used on social media platforms can be found at sites such as Freepik, Canva, and Best Message.
  2. Remind staff how they can access mental health care resources and support available through your health insurance plan and/or EAP program.
    Telehealth services, crisis hotlines, virtual and in-person support groups, and counseling services are some of the many services available through existing employee benefit plans. If your organization doesn’t have these types of programs, consider researching cost-effective options to make them available to your staff. In addition, links to several mental health resources are provided in our article titled Mental Health Resources for Healthcare Workers.
  3. Code Lavender Programs.
    Code Lavender is a holistic, rapid response program designed to address the emotional needs of the health care team experiencing an acute stressor. Examples of stressors are patient death, unexpected patient outcomes, or even a stressful commute into work.  Bayhealth Foundation in Dover, Delaware was able to support its staff by purchasing Code Lavender kits that include a back massager, aromatherapy inhalers, LED candles, a sound machine, Code Lavender journals, and a tote to store all of the items in. To learn more, read our article that outlines the program here:  Code Lavender: Not a Typical Code.
  4. Encourage staff to take an online screening test to determine whether or not they’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Mental Health American (MHA) has several types of online screening tools available at no cost here. It’s important to remind staff that these online tests are not intended to be diagnostic, but rather to alert them of issues that may warrant evaluation by a mental health professional.
  5. Promote and practice random acts of kindness throughout the day.
    A review of resources on Random Acts of Kindness (RAK’s) conducted by PositivePsychology.com found that random acts of kindness not only benefit the receiver, but also the giver. Benefits include less depression, decreased pain (by generating endorphins), lowering stress hormone levels, reducing anxiety, and lowering blood pressure.  Examples of simple random acts of kindness that can be exchanged in the workplace include leaving someone a surprise card or handwritten note, making someone laugh, making a cup of coffee or tea for a colleague, sending someone a funny GIF or meme by email, getting to know a new staff member, praising a colleague for something they’ve done well, thanking a team member for helping you with a task, or simply smiling and saying hello to people you may see in passing. Need more ideas?  Print and post this poster in staff break areas to get their creative juices flowing. 
  6. Free on-site screening
    Conduct free on-site clinical depression screenings from a qualified mental health professional, including clinical referrals, if appropriate. Make sure these are conducted in a private area in order to ensure privacy for your staff.
  7. Free education
    Host seminars and/or webinars that address symptoms of depression and stress management techniques. To learn more, see our articles on Signs of Post-COVID PTSD Among Healthcare Staff and How Employers Can Help and Tackling Burnout With Your Mind.
  8. Free Training
    Provide management training for leaders to help them better understand and recognize signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression in their team members and encourage them to see help from a qualified mental health professional.
  9. Get outside
    Have an outdoor event day. Spending time outdoors is a great way to relax and enjoy a change of scenery. Plan fun games and team building activities, such as those shown on this list of 56 outdoor team building activities.
  10. Get Creative

Create a different type of Escape Room where staff can escape from work for a few minutes. Include relaxation aids such as meditation pillows, soft lighting, bean bag chairs, aromatherapy diffusers, relaxing music, and maybe even a monitor showing relaxing YouTube videos and guided meditations. See a list of more great ideas here.

 

Conclusion

Letting your team know that you recognize that their mental and emotional health is just as important as their physical health can go a long way in motivating them to pay attention to their own mental health. Emotionally healthy staff are more engaged, more focused, and more likely to provide the best possible care for the people they serve.

Matchwell stands with you in providing information and resources to help you sustain and enhance a culture of caring in your organization.

If you would like to learn more or be part of the on-going conversation, contact Joy Skovira, RN at jskovira@wematchwell.com or Bree Becker, MSN, FNP-C, RN at bbecker@wematchwell.com