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Ways Leaders Can Address Mental Health

January 8th, 2019

Great Article From Forbes.

Camille Preston, PhD, PCC
CEO, speaker, author and renowned coach, Camille ignites leaders to find focus, unlock energy, reach peak performance

The world is on fire. We’re literally and metaphorically burning up. From the wildfires in California to mass shootings to increasingly partisan politics, over the past year, Americans have faced heightened levels of stress and anxiety in their daily lives. But as a psychologist who has worked with executives and their teams for over two decades, I know that what happens outside the workplace also impacts how we do our jobs.

In 2018, a series of high-profile tragedies, like the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, briefly put the spotlight on the toll depression and anxiety can have on individuals, even those who appear to have it all. Public awareness is an important first step, but in 2019, leaders urgently need to start addressing and destigmatizing mental health issues in their organizations.

The High Cost Of Ignoring Mental Health In The Workplace

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the annual cost of depression and anxiety in the workplace is $1 trillion per year globally. By contrast, the WHO emphasizes that workplaces that proactively promote mental health and support people with mental disorders have lower rates of absenteeism, increased productivity, and benefit from other economic gains.

As emphasized in Mental Health in the Workplace: A Call to Action Proceedings from the Mental Health in the Workplace earlier this year, data accumulated over the past decade suggests that “comprehensive wellness programs, that incorporate mental well-being, flatten the cost curve on medical and productivity-related expenditures, allowing the company to return savings to its members.”

So, how can organizations take steps to actually start prioritizing mental health in the workplace?

Four Ways Leaders Can Proactively Tackle Mental Health In The Workplace

I currently serve as the people strategy partner for a venture capital firm. It’s an unusual role and exceptionally uncommon in the VC world. But my colleagues who founded the firm recognized that in the fast-paced and high-stress VC and startup world, it was critical to bring on a partner with expertise in people.

In my work, I’ve also discovered that all leaders and organizations have the capacity to take the steps required to proactively address mental health issues and, in the process, do a better job supporting their teams, reducing burnout and increasing productivity. Here are four ways to begin the process.

1. Start by taking care of your own mental health needs.

When you’re traveling on a plane with a small child, you’re asked to put your own oxygen mask on first. The same rule holds true for leaders and mental health. If you’re taking care of yourself, taking care of your team will be a lot easier. Remember, in times of uncertainty, people look up. Whether or not you intend it, people will model your actions.

To begin, start with something simple, sustainable and scalable. For example, make a decision to be more active, eat better and, if it’s an issue, drink less. Start small and build on your momentum. This is critical: If you promise yourself that you’re going to start meditating for an hour each day, you’ll likely fail to find the time to meet your target. By keeping your goals realistic, you’ll also be keeping everything in your circle of control.

2. Weed out toxic elements in your workplace culture.

Take a long, hard look at your workplace or, better yet, bring in a neutral third party to carry out a 360 assessment. From your location in the corporate suite, the toxic elements in your organization may not be visible. After all, people often go out of their way to mask problems. A trained workplace coach or facilitator, however, can check in with your employees and help identify patterns that may be making your workplace toxic. Also, bear in mind that discovering that you have a bullying or harassment issue in your organization isn’t only essential if you want to address mental health concerns — it’s also a compliance issue.

If in doubt, throw it out. Simplify, be clear about what is/isn’t acceptable, be willing to make hard choices to “walk the talk,” and trust that with time, your courage and conviction will lead you forward.

3. Keep the communication lines open.

We are so detached from the people around us, it can be easy to lose sight of what is real and present to them. Create multiple avenues for people to connect, share and engage. If someone on your team is grappling with a personal issue (e.g., a divorce or family death) or is simply not dealing well with a temporary source of stress and anxiety at work and has nowhere to bring their concerns, a small problem may balloon into a much larger crisis.

4. Recruit the expertise you lack.

As the co-authors of the study mentioned above observe, “Business professionals lack the necessary training to address mental health in the workplace” and “often lack the skills needed to build a positive work environment where workers feel empowered.” To this end, they advise partnering with experts in mental health to develop executive training programs designed to prepare leaders to build and sustain a mentally healthy workforce. Where resources permit, however, there may be more integrative options.

As mentioned, one of my many roles is partner in a venture capital firm. I was invited not as a finance expert, but as someone with deep insight into people and the management of mental health issues, including stress in the startup world. If you’re truly committed to addressing mental health in your organization, in 2019, consider the potential return on investment for contracting with or recruiting a partner with expertise on people and mental health. There is no better way to destigmatize mental health than to make a mental health expert an integral part of your team.

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