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4 Ways Employers Can Make Mental Health A Priority In The Workplace

by Kerry Alison Wekelo, managing director of human resources and operations for Actualize Consulting and author of “Culture Infusion

The recent suicides of iconic fashion designer Kate Spade and internationally renowned chef Anthony Bourdain renewed attention on a disturbing trend in the U.S.

Deaths by suicide have been increasing across the country for almost two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s recent report showed that suicide rates have jumped over 30 percent in half the states since 1999. Yet many who take their own lives suffer in silence, and often there aren’t warning signs to those close to them. The CDC study reported that 54 percent of people who died by suicide had no known mental health condition, such as depression.

Authorities on workplace culture see those numbers as further evidence that employers should prioritize mental health initiatives for their employees.

Integrating mental health and wellness practices into an organization makes a huge difference for individuals and the company as a whole. They know you care. As leaders are looking to improve their workplace, it’s vital to have employee mental health as a big part of the conversation. How employees feel directly impacts their contribution.

Work is the one of the most common sources of stress, according to the American Psychological Association’s latest survey. Stress can lead to mental illness or substance abuse, which can costs employers between $79 and $105 billion annually according to the Center for Prevention and Health Services.

Unhappy people create a negative work environment, which will cost you financially in absenteeism, decreased productivity and healthcare expenses.

Here are four ways employers can increase awareness about mental health in the workplace and provide help in that regard for their employees:

1. Communicate: reach out and listen.

Suffering in silence is sometimes due to the person feeling uncomfortable talking about issues or not having anyone who will listen. Taking time to listen can lead to conflict resolution or to one’s road to recovery, and the confidence they’re not alone.

2. Encourage inspirational activity.

When faced with my own personal stress or with someone coming to me in distress, a question I ask is, ‘What are you doing that inspires you each day?’ Then I encourage making a list and completing one activity each day that the person loves.

3. Breaks: Move to improve your mood.

We all get in a funk at work and sometimes feel chained to our desks. Supervisors can allow more freedom to get outside and walk off some stress, re-charge. Movement is a real way to take care of your own well-being. It can clear your mind and spark creativity.

4. Emphasize nutrition.

Focusing on healthy, balanced food choices supports a healthy mental state. Sometimes in stress we dive right into emotional eating – junk food that makes things worse. Have the employees ask themselves why they react to certain situations that way.

Employers need to realize that as much as their employees give them, they need to be there for them on a consistent basis, and not make mental health something no one wants to talk about.

 

Kerry Alison Wekelo is managing director of human resources and operations for Actualize Consulting. She also is author of “Culture Infusion: 9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture“. Among her other accomplishments, Wekelo is a yoga teacher, life coach, award-winning author of children’s books, and the founder of Zendoway, a company that encourages holistic wellness.

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