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Mental Health at Work

mental health at work

Are you feeling a pinch on your mental health this past year? You’re not alone. More than half of your coworkers feel the same way. The good news? Support for mental health at work doesn’t carry the stigma it once did, and employers are listening and responding.

A recent Emerging from the Pandemic Survey by Willis Towers Watson shows:

  • Nearly half of Gen Y and 64% of Gen Z report poor mental health issues over the past year.
  • Employers’ biggest wellbeing challenges are rising stress, burnout, and higher mental-health-related claims.
  • Increased caregiving demands (67%) and decreased social connections (61%) are the leading drivers of mental health issues. 

While mental health issues aren’t new to the workplace, the pressure-cooker of 2020 has motivated more employers than ever to take action in tangible ways. Most employers (93%) say behavioral health will be a priority for their organization over the next three years. Nearly all employers offer telebehavioral health services, and over two-thirds (67%) provide a digital platform for mental health services.

“Almost all of our clients have asked for details about their current and legacy offerings as well as options for enhanced benefits,” says Kirk Ashy, partner and vice president at Shepard & Walton Employee Benefits in Austin. “Insurance companies have been bringing these enhanced and advanced benefits to the market for the last few years, and that was particularly highlighted during the pandemic. Great efforts have been made to have better technology available for virtual visits and virtual care for all areas of healthcare, with mental health becoming an increasingly bigger focus.”

Even extra PTO, team check-ins and other forms of support have helped workers, particularly during the added stress of the past year. Last summer, both Indeed’s Austin location and Austin-based The Zebra gave employees extra time off to focus on themselves and their families.

Advocating for Support

There are endless layers of mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five people experiences mental illness—from generalized anxiety to schizophrenia, bipolar, severe depression, and other serious mental illnesses. Those numbers have only increased in recent months. When it comes to support, one size does not fit all. But, in almost every case, you may need to be your own advocate. A recent Total Brain study found that 74% of working Americans believe their employers genuinely care about their mental health, yet 50% feel their employers aren’t offering enough support.

The Total Brain survey also found that “the vast majority of workers do not feel that their employer has created an open workplace culture when it comes to mental health. A staggering 86% say that they want their employer to build a corporate culture that encourages candid conversations and honest dialogue about mental health issues and challenges.”

In many of these cases, support like telebehavioral health services and extra time off may be available, but the work culture continues to discourage asking for help or showing vulnerability. In those cases—when your employer wants to help but doesn’t know how to take steps to create an environment for support—you might recommend a resource like the NAMI Central Texas. The organization offers workplace training that includes cultivating empathy and resolving conflict, managing stress, dispelling mental health myths, and creating a supportive environment. There’s also training for individuals living with mental health conditions, too.

Advocating to improve your workplace’s general response to mental health can often be easier than asking for specific help for yourself. To do that, trust needs to exist between you and your manager, and you need to have the words to express yourself. Of course, when it comes to more severe or chronic mental illness, your medical support team can (and should) help. But if it’s occasional stress and anxiety you’re feeling, Austin Technology Council published these questions you can ask yourself to be able to express what you might need from your employer:

  • What is causing my stress?
  • Do I feel that it is temporary?
  • Do I need to ask for a change in my workload or schedule?
  • Where is this coming from?
  • Should I seek help?

To help answer that final question, Kathleen Casey, director of clinic innovation and development at Integral Care in Austin, adds that a good way to gauge how you’re doing is to ask yourself: How is the stress impacting your relationships? How is it affecting your ability to carry out daily tasks? And have you found it difficult to manage your moods when it’s important to have some self-regulation and self-control?

Seeking Employers Who Get It

And what if you’re job searching? How do you spot employers who will be supportive when it comes to mental health? It can start with looking at their online culture and career pages. Do they highlight health benefits, wellness programs, generous PTO, and work/life balance like Austin-based Sysco LABS does? Do they feature values like teamwork, individuality, dignity, and empowerment like Austin’s BigCommerce does?

Then, during the interview process, Ashy recommends doing some extra detective work.

“Ask for a copy of the benefits guide or any employee-facing material that can be easily reviewed. The mental health benefits and wellness programs will be highlighted there in most cases,” he told us, adding that you could also ask the employer how they support the health and wellness of their workforce.

Employers understand now more than ever their role in fostering and supporting mental health at work for their workers. It’s not something you need to tackle on your own anymore.


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