By Tammy McCausland
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which has been observed since 1949.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a tremendous impact on the mental health of children, teens and adults. No industry was left untouched. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Over the course of the pandemic, many adults reported symptoms consistent with anxiety and depression, with approximately four in ten adults reporting these symptoms by early 2021, before declining to approximately three in ten adults as the pandemic continued.”1
Already struggling with burnout, healthcare workers were particularly impacted by the pandemic. In a May 3 blog post, the American Hospital Association noted, “Many have dubbed the growing need of mental health services as the next pandemic.” The blog concludes, “The pandemic helped with decreasing stigma associated with accessing mental health care. We need to maintain this momentum by supporting easy access to effective care. We were fortunate enough to beat one pandemic; we can’t afford to slow down in our battle with the next one.”2
In support of Mental Health Awareness Month, the U.S. Department of Labor launched a Mental Health at Work webpage with numerous resources. Mental Health America launched a 2023 Mental Health Month Toolkit. The National Alliance on Mental Illness launched the More Than Enough Campaign (share #MoreThanEnough on social media). Many states also have mental health resources available on their websites.
Healthcare leaders should make it a priority to check in with their staff about their mental health—ask how they’re doing; what, if anything, they’re struggling with; and how you can help. Stigma around mental health still exists, so leaders should approach any topic with a supportive and safe attitude and ensure confidentiality. A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Leaders, Sharing Your Own Mental Health Story Can Help You Become a Better Ally,” suggests leaders’ sharing their own mental health stories can help. “When leaders of all levels share their personal stories, it reduces stigma and normalizes the ups and downs of being human” writes Kelly Greenwood,3 who offers guidance on how to craft a mental health story. In her HBR article “How Managers Can Address Their Own Biases Around Mental Health,” Jen Porter suggests sharing their own stories is one of the most meaningful ways managers can support their staff. “When managers lead with vulnerability and share personal experiences, they clear the way for employees to open up about what they’re going through,” she writes. 4 Porter encourages readers to acknowledge their personal biases, to lead with curiosity, solve collaboratively and create a team culture of psychological safety. Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization, coined the term “psychological safety.” Amy Gallo explores psychological safety in detail in her article “What Is Psychological Safety?”
Michael Leiter, who co-authored The Burnout Challenge with Christina Maslach, was interviewed for the SROA Soundboard podcast. He spoke about the need to pivot away from the idea of burnout as an individual issue to re-envisioning workplace culture. Maslach created the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a helpful, comprehensive resource for assessing burnout. “To fix burnout on a large scale, then, we need to look at work itself. . . . As a society, we should also be open to trying new work structures—four-day workweeks, for instance, which can reduce burnout without sacrificing productivity,” writes Jonathan Malesic in his article “Mental-Health Days Are Only a Band-Aid for Burnout.”5
The focus on mental health needs to be ongoing. Fortunately, there is greater awareness of and more resources available to tackle mental health than ever before. For example, Coursera offers a The Science of Well-Being, a free course adapted from Yale University’s most popular undergraduate course. To secure lasting change, leaders need to make mental health a priority and work earnestly to achieve sustainable change.
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