Bringing Mental Health to the Forefront of Workplace Wellbeing
As we near the end of Mental Health Awareness month, I’ve taken the time to reflect on how the conversation around mental health has changed since I entered the workforce. As a person with firsthand experience regarding mental health – both my own and my family’s – it has been uplifting to see how the conversation has become less taboo, but it is clear there is still a long way to go.
According to research from Johns Hopkins, one in four American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year. This means companies that are not prioritizing mental health are allowing up to a quarter of their workforce to struggle silently. While nearly 40% of employers expanded mental health benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, benefits only go so far. The onus is on leaders to encourage open, transparent conversations with their teams around mental health.
I was diagnosed with bipolar depression at 23, right as I began my career. At the time, mental health was not talked about in the workplace. I was fortunate enough to have great doctors and a great support system to help me navigate the challenges of my diagnosis, but never felt like I could bring that portion of myself to work. As my career progressed and I moved into a leadership role, it became increasingly important for me to share my story and let my team members know they are supported. This drive was further exacerbated by my children’s struggles with mental health, especially my eldest son’s, who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma when he was 16 and struggled with depression throughout diagnosis and treatment.
In my role as a leader today, I work hard to ensure everyone on my team can bring their full selves to work, and believe strongly that the only way to be an effective leader is to encourage this. Giving people the support they need goes beyond simply being a good human – it’s also good for business. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to feel as though you have to hide a portion of yourself in the workplace, and it not only has personal implications, but implications on productivity and absenteeism.
Navigating conversations around mental health in the workplace is not easy, but it is crucial. Even more so with the rise of remote work, where it can be impossible to see the physical signs that someone may be struggling. Leaders must make it a priority to connect with individual team members to have conversations that go beyond daily work tasks. During COVID, and even now as the majority of my team remains remote, I make it a point to meet with those I work most closely with multiple times a week, taking that time to look for signs of burnout or stress. I also track who hasn’t taken vacation, or might be regularly sending emails late at night or on the weekends, and proactively raise these things to them to encourage them to take a step back and take care of themselves. While these conversations may not explicitly include questions about how my teammates are doing mentally, my goal is that by initiating the conversations and encouraging them to take time for themselves, they feel that support implicitly.
Unfortunately, not every company makes supporting mental health easy. I feel fortunate to work for a company that does. Rocket’s values of empathy, humanity, trust and love mean that supporting employees in all aspects of their life is baked into the very core of the business. Rocket is committed to supporting employees from all walks of life via its RIDE initiative, and offers more personalized support via its Modern Health benefit, a mental wellness platform that makes it simple for our employees to access personalized care throughout life’s ups and downs.