The Global Impact of Mental Illness
While the last decade has seen progress with mental health awareness, the impact of common disorders still has a far-reaching impact. The World Health Organization reports that between 76% and 85% of people in low/middle income countries receive no treatment for their disorder(s) 1 . Moreover, research by Penn State found poor mental health to be one of the costliest forms of sickness for US workers. The global economic cost of mental illness is expected to be more than $16 Trillion over the next 20 years 2 . What these figures don’t account for, however, is the toll that mental health challenges have on individuals. While it is important to consider mental health on a global scale, we must also consider our friends, families, businesses, communities, and how precisely to care for those impacted.
Wellness and the Workplace
A report by the World Health Organization outlines the common consequences of mental health challenges, and many of them center around the workplace. For instance, absenteeism, workplace performance, attitudes, and relationships all suffer. There is also a higher rate of unemployment among those with mental illness. Though it may come as a surprise, reemployment has been shown to be one of the most effective ways of promoting mental health within this population. So, governing bodies will need to address the role employment, or an employer can play in promoting mental health.
Most organizations have some form of employee wellness program in place, though they can be quite varied in their scope. Many programs focus on physical health, offering incentives to achieving clinical benchmarks around blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol, and smoking cessation. Understanding the impact mental health has on workplace performance, these physical health models are missing a vital component. Psychological wellness initiatives, on the other hand, are less common. Corporate mental health advocacy tends to be limited to extended mental health benefits.
Unfortunately, people often choose not to seek treatment even when they have access to mental health services. Several studies have linked these infrequent treatment-seeking behaviors to a stigma associated with mental illness, which leads to negative attitudes about treatment, and deters individuals who need mental health services 3 . It certainly doesn’t help that operational changes among mental health practices – a result of COVID-19 – have limited the ability of many to continue their usual services. In that sense, mental health services have been navigating a challenge well-known to those of us in the corporate training space: how to provide products/services in a virtual environment and/or following frequently changing guidelines.
Leadership Development Solutions to Promote Wellbeing
There is an important, though often overlooked, role organizational leaders can play in promoting the psychological wellbeing of employees. First, they need to be equipped with the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to be advocates and facilitators. For instance, leaders must be able to recognize the signs of anxiety and depression in the workplace. Well-developed interpersonal skills (e.g., active listening, empathy, providing feedback, etc.,) are also critical for leaders when approaching their employees as advocates. Most importantly, leaders must have the knowledge about relevant services their employees can pursue – whether through internal employee wellness programs, company health benefits, or community resources.
The Role of Corporate Training in Mental Health Advocacy
Of course, organizational leaders can’t offer much direct support for their employees’ mental health challenges. Instructional designers certainly can’t do much either. That would be well outside of their scope of practice, but corporate training teams can be advocates in a different way. For instance, projects like converting the wealth of online educational resources to digital learning formats for the company, designing training videos to reshape stigma around mental illness, or creating custom eLearning activities around stress mitigation would go a long way in most cases. However, it is best to start with a company-wide survey to determine the biggest challenges for employees, and prioritize a few key risk areas (e.g., stress reduction, negative thinking, burnout, etc.) Equipped with best practices in instructional design, performance consulting, and training technology, employee development teams can target motivational factors, build knowledge, and shape behaviors around mental health awareness, advocacy, and treatment seeking.
Building a World that Works Better
Mental illness isn’t a challenge that we can overcome with training alone. There will certainly be limitations to the impact corporations and their leaders can have on their employees; however, each seemingly small step taken can make bounds of difference in the lives of individual. Even in the case that organizations can’t reshape treatment seeking behaviors or provide more mental health services through company benefits, the effort shown in communicating awareness and advocacy does matter. Research suggests that simply showing care can help to buffer people against stress, increase positive emotions, and promote resilience.
So, as we close out the year by celebrating our cherished holidays, consider what you can do – as an individual or organization – to support and care for your friends, family, businesses, and community.