Spreading the Word About #MentalHealthAwareness

MAY IS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH. Since 1949, May has been designated as the month to raise awareness and educate the public about: mental illnesses, the realities of living with these conditions; and strategies for attaining mental health and wellness. It also aims to draw attention to suicide, which can be precipitated by some mental illnesses and to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses.

As the month of May comes to a close, I couldn’t let it end without expressing my sincere gratitude for the opportunities I’ve had so far this year, and this month in particular, to discuss mental health awareness in the workplace. In March, I had the pleasure of presenting at the North Alabama SHRM (NASHRM) Workshop on Creating the Best Place to Work for Your Employee.  In April, I did a video interview for WorkHuman with Dan Tomasulo & Steve Pemberton on Igniting Hope to Combat Mental Health Challenges. This month, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I co-presented a webcast on Developing Empathy During Times of Uncertainty with Jarik Conrad and wrote a whitepaper on Mental Health in the Workplace During Times of Uncertainty, both for Ultimate Software. Last, but certainly not least, I was interviewed for Osasu Arigbe’s blog. Each of these opportunities was a true honor!

I have dedicated my career to helping people in one form or another, but this by far is the most rewarding. THIS is my mission. I see every aspect of my work, of my life really, through a mental health friendly lens which ties directly into diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. As an HR practitioner, it’s so important to me to help employers understand how critical it is to support employee mental health and show them how to do so. Employees must also understand the importance of maintaining good mental health and that if they are experiencing mental illness or another type of mental health crisis, there are resources available to support them. 

I will continue to do this critical work and to be grateful for every opportunity to share my story and to help employers, to borrow a phrase from NASHRM, create the best place to work for their employees.  

NOTE: I would be remiss if I did not mention the particular toll on Black mental health that is occurring during this challenging time. In addition to dealing with a staggering number of deaths from COVID-19 in the Black community, almost daily we are exposed to another racist incident that leads to a Black person being harassed, assaulted and in the worst cases – murdered. THIS IS NOT OK. We often speak on the grace we need to extend to our employees in the face of the coronavirus health crisis – greater flexibility, remote work options, understanding why their child is on the Zoom call, etc. Please let us also remember to extend grace to our colleagues who are dealing with constant assaults on our very humanity.

 

 

Managing #MentalHealth During the #COVID19 Pandemic

alone2Like many people, I am currently teleworking five days a week due to the COVID-19 / coronavirus crisis. As this is an unprecedented situation, folks have been checking in on each other a little more than usual. This past week, when people have asked me how I’m doing, I tell them, I’M GOOD. To be honest, except for not seeing my granddaughter, I couldn’t be happier!

My office officially started all staff teleworking last Friday. I was on leave that day, so I didn’t feel anything out of the norm. I knew something was different, though, when I didn’t feel my usual Sunday night anxiety. Every Sunday night – unless I’m on vacation – I feel a lot of anxiety and I have insomnia. It never fails. This past Sunday, that didn’t happen. Somehow my mind and body knew that the next day was going to be different. No struggling to get myself together to leave in the morning. No commute. No stress. All was well.

As a person with Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety who is also a strong introvert, self-isolation is nothing new for me. Of course I don’t usually do it because of a pandemic, but I’m definitely familiar with the concept. For better or worse, I’m built for this! As long as I have my bed, books, music, food and drinks, I think I’m going to do OK with this forced social distancing. People have asked me if it feels different because it’s not by choice. It really doesn’t feel different to me. At least not yet. Ask me again in a few weeks.

grateful-addiction-recoveryI don’t take this comfort with my alone time for granted. I know there are many other people who are feeling extremely anxious about self isolating, being socially distant or being quarantined. I also don’t take for granted that I have a job that allows me to telework. There are several people who, unfortunately, have either lost their jobs or have to go to work and risk catching the virus because they can’t afford not to. There are people who are going to feel lonely because they look forward to socializing or being around others at work. On top of all of that, fear over the virus itself and the economic impact of it are enough to make anyone angsty.

PROTECT_YOUR_MENTAL_HEALTH_RAINBOW_PNG_1200x1200While most people are taking measures to protect their physical health (and the physical health of others;) we mustn’t forget about protecting our mental health as well. This crisis has created a perfect storm for stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and/or paranoia. Unfortunately, being isolated or quarantined in the home may also be a catalyst for an uptick in domestic, substance and/or child abuse.  This is truly a crisis in more ways than one. If the coronavirus madness is negatively affecting your mental health, there are some tools and resources that may help. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

CONNECT WITH OTHERS:

TWITTER – Good for having real-time conversations and following hashtags for topics of interest

FACEBOOKGood for finding and joining groups focused on certain topics. Any topic or hobby you can imagine, there’s a Facebook group for it. Groups like Therapy for Black Girls and NoStigmas Mental Health Allies can also be good support systems if you are NOT in a crisis situation.

WHATSAPP OR GOOGLE HANGOUTS – Good for catching up with family and friends via chat, phone or video chat. (You can also use FaceTime if you have yet to realize Android phones are better. 🙂 )

SLACK – Good for group communication, especially with co-workers.

*DISCLAIMER: If using social media does more harm to your mental health than good, please avoid. It is also not recommended to use social media in place of seeking professional help, especially during a crisis.

CALM YOUR MIND:

EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (EAP) – If your employer offers an employee assistance program, it can be a great source of information and resources. If you are not sure if your employer offers an EAP or do not know how to contact them, ask your Human Resources representative.

CALM is offering FREE resources for mental and emotional wellness including soothing sounds, meditations and exercises.

GROKKER is offering FREE yoga, fitness and cooking videos through April 30, 2020.

GET THERAPY:

TALKSPACE  is increasing access to licensed therapists and providing free resources for both existing users and those who haven’t yet tried the service. They are also offering numerous resources for managing anxiety COVID-19 anxiety including a Facebook group. 

OPENPATH has several therapists who are now offering online sessions.

MANAGE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH:

COVID-19 Lockdown Guide: How to Manage Anxiety and Isolation During Quarantine – ADAA

Coronavirus Resource Hub and Free Virus Assessment Survey Questions (CultureIQ)

How to Manage Your Coronavirus Anxiety (WSJ)

How to Self-Quarantine (NY Times)

6 Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Anxiety About Coronavirus (Thrive Global)

Are you worried about Coronavirus? (Psychology Today)

Mental Health & Coping During COVID-19 – Manage Anxiety & Stress – CDC

Coping With Coronavirus: Managing Stress, Fear, and Anxiety – NIMH

Managing Depression and Anxiety During COVID-19

HAVE SOME FUN:

7 Things To Do While Self Isolating Without Self Sabotaging

19 Things to Do When You’re Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Isolation Period 

7 Things To Do While In Self Isolation

Top 10 Things To Do While You Self-Isolate

**IF YOU’RE EXPERIENCING A CRISIS**

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, feeling unsafe, or feel like you are in danger of breaking your sobriety, please contact a professional.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)  National Helpline – 1−800−799−7233

National Domestic Violence Hotline– 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline –  1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline – 1 (800) 950 – 6264

ChildHelp National Child Abuse Hotline – 1 (800) 422 – 4453

Crisis Text Line – Text SHARE to 741741

Stay Safe. Stay Healthy. Wash Your Hands. Keep Your Distance. Rest. Be.

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My #MentalHealth Moment of Truth

mentalhealthIf you follow me on social media – and you should – you know that I am a fierce advocate for mental wellness in general, but particularly in the workplace, which is where many of us spend the bulk of our time. Too many people are dealing with the physical and mental effects of stress and burnout while too many employers stay too focused on the work and not focused enough on the person. In addition to that, many people are living with a mental health condition that, while not necessarily making it impossible for them to work (at the moment) can impact them at work in various ways.

Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, PTSD… all of these and more can affect someone’s work style, preferred working hours or environment, etc. Employers need to commit to understanding how various mental health conditions can impact their people AND how they can support people who are in the midst of a mental health crisis, may be at risk for one, or who may just need some minor accommodations to perform at their best.

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As I mentioned, most people who follow me on social media know I speak frequently about mental health & wellbeing, but it wasn’t until recently that someone actually asked me why this topic is so important to me. I was contacted to participate in a SHRM article on mental health in the workplace and of course I jumped at the chance. I started the interview by saying this topic is near & dear to me so of course the interviewer asked why that is. So now it was time for my ‘moment of truth.’ Do I give some generic “because I care about the quality of life for all people” reply or do I share my truth? I decided to share my truth. I figured it’s pretty hypocritical to advocate for destigmatizing mental illness while remaining quiet about my own. So I told the interviewer, with full knowledge that this article was going on the SHRM website, that I live with Major Depressive Disorder. Did I have more than a smidge of anxiety about it? Of course. But I weighed the pros & cons and believed the pros outweighed the cons. Tell the truth and shame the devil as the old folks say. (Not meant to be an ageist comment. It’s just something usually said by older individuals.)

Kaiser-Permanente-Why-We-Need-to-End-the-Stigma-Around-Mental-Illness

When the article came out, I was preparing to attend the WorkHuman Live conference so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. No one said anything to me about it so I kept it moving. I already had enough anxiety about traveling and having to be ‘ON’ for four days straight at a conference. But now I’m back and after four days of listening to practitioners and celebrities espouse the importance of humanity in the workplace and being your whole self, I’m ready to get back to this.

So yes; I have Major Depressive Disorder. What does that mean for me? In part – Some days it’s a struggle to get out of bed, let alone go to work or socialize. I can become incredibly sad or be in a bad mood for no apparent reason. I can become overwhelmed by negative thoughts. I have severe insomnia. My motivation can lag at times. I have a tendency to procrastinate. These are some of the ways the disorder manifests for me but every person is different. None of this makes me any less amazing or effective as an HR professional but it does factor into who I am and therefore how I work and how I work best. And I’m not the only one. Not by a long shot. 

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Many employers would easily understand why someone with cancer or even a broken leg might need support at work but are far less understanding when it comes to mental illnesses (or other invisible illnesses, but that’s a topic for another day.) To be fair, some of it is a lack of education. Mental illness is so stigmatized that no one wants to talk about it. So no one talks about it. I believe it is incumbent upon us as HR professionals to open up these conversations as part of building inclusive workplaces.

In addition to talking about mental health, we need to educate our employees on how to support those dealing with a mental health condition, especially if we know they’re dealing with one, but even if we don’t know for sure. For example, if someone’s personality or productivity changes, it could be for a number of reasons including that they may be dealing with a mental health condition. Several of the things managers are quick to complain about could be due to mental health conditions. For example,

  • Someone dealing with an anxiety disorder may find working in an open workspace overwhelming and thus it may take them a bit longer to finish projects.
  • Someone who is frequently “late” to work could be dealing with depression so it takes them longer to get going in the morning.
  • Someone dealing with OCD may take longer to leave the house.
  • Someone with PTSD may be triggered in certain environments or situations.

When you start viewing and treating people as human beings, not just cogs in the machine, you develop a better understanding of who they are and how you can best help them succeed. 

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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we need to deal with horrible attitudes or subpar performance on a constant basis. We still have work to do and some people are just jackasses or poor performers. It happens.  What I AM saying is, we’re ALL dealing with something. It may be a mental health condition. It may be a physical health condition. It may be the loss of a loved one, a divorce, family problems, financial issues… We don’t shut off those parts of our life when we cross the threshold of the office. Know your people. Understand your people. Get educated on how to best support your people. And if support looks like telework or flexible work hours, change in desk location or some other fix that isn’t a hardship on the organization – DO IT.

Do your best FOR your people so you can get the best FROM your people.

P.S. – I feel compelled to make a special note of the mental and emotional toll current events and lived experiences can take on people. A person may not have a diagnosed mental health disorder, but:

  • If you are a Black person who regularly sees your people getting killed in the street by the folks who are supposed to ‘serve & protect’ us, or getting the police called on them for having the audacity to live & breathe, you’re gonna carry with you – into work – the fear that one day it might be you.
  • If you are Latinx and see how committed the current administration is to deporting people who may be your family, or may be you, you’re gonna carry that with you – into work.
  • If you are transgender and see that transgender individuals are being found dead, particularly transgender women of color, just because someone didn’t like or understand how that person identified, you’re gonna carry that with you – into work. 
  • If you are a person who lives in a crime ridden area and/or lives paycheck to paycheck, you’re gonna carry that fear of safety or instability with you – into work.

The microaggressions members of marginalized groups often experience in the workplace also take a significant mental and emotional toll. Death by 1000 cuts. This is why intentional inclusion is so important.

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I’ve shared my moment of truth. What’s yours?

#HR: Let’s Lead the Way in Promoting #MentalHealth Awareness

So…it’s been a long minute since I published a blog post. I have several draft posts on topics I really wanted to share with my legions of readers (lol) but for some reason, I’ll get halfway through and stop. Then weeks will go by and I feel like it’s not fresh anymore. For example, I STILL have a draft post about #SHRM16 – as I’m preparing to attend #SHRM17 next month. I know, I know.

1in5

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI,) 1 in 5 Americans is affected by a mental health issue.

At any rate, I’m hitting ‘publish’ on this one for sure because the topic is near and dear to me on both a personal and professional level. Mental Health. MAY IS MENTAL HEALTH MONTH. Having been personally affected by mental illness and super aware of the impact it can have on life activities, I am hyper vigilant about others taking care of their own mental health. This, of course, extends to my co-workers/colleagues, or as I like to call them “my people.” I believe HR professionals are in a unique position to promote positive mental health; however, this in no way lets leadership and management off the hook.

A few days ago I sent an all staff email about mental health awareness which included a few mental illness stats, a reminder about the Employee Assistance Program and the availability of mental health professionals through our insurance plan. I work at a nonprofit and I love a good “mission-driven organization” as much as the next person but I also realize the tendency for many employees to be underpaid, overworked, overwhelmed and stressed out trying to fulfill that mission.

Stress is a leading cause of chronic health problems, both mental and physical. If you are already dealing with a mental illness, it will only exacerbate the issue.

In the workplace, this has an impact not only on the individual, but on teams, departments, working relationships, morale, benefits costs, absenteeism, and the bottom line. In other words, it would behoove ANY employer to take this issue seriously. As HR professionals especially, we have to always remember that our employees are people first and deal with a plethora of issues that don’t just go away during work hours.

Offering an EAP is a great first step but we also need to genuinely care about our employees and create supportive environments in which people can be their best selves and therefore utilize their knowledge, skills and abilities (i.e what we hired them for) to their best capabilities. Of course I’m not saying there won’t ever be bad days, stressful periods, times when everyone is stretched a bit thin, etc, but these should be the exception, not the rule.

Mental Health Facts 2017

(Infographic – Mental Health America)

Your assignment today, my fellow HR professionals, is to educate your colleagues and organization leadership on the importance of mental health awareness (not just this month but on a consistent basis,) provide resources for employees to get help (if not already doing so,) and work to create (or maintain should you be so lucky) a  stigma-free workplace.

Remember, there’s no health without mental health.

Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Mental Health America (provides an employer toolkit)

National Institute of Mental Health

nostigI have #NoStigmas