As Mental Health Awareness Month begins, it's important for all of us to remember the importance of prioritizing our mental health. The theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Month is "Tools 2 Thrive," which is all about providing individuals with the tools they need to prioritize their mental health and wellness.
As individuals, there are many steps we can take to improve our mental health including understanding the risk factors that lead to mental health issues, tracking our own mental health, taking proactive actions to maintain good physical and mental health, and reaching out for support when needed. As business leaders, there are several ways to help support employees during this important month and beyond including maintaining an inclusive and supportive workplace culture, sharing resources on mental health, promoting a healthy work/life balance, and more.
What factors contribute to poor mental health?
Mental health issues can have many causes, and the factors that contribute to mental health problems can vary depending on the individual and the condition. However, some of the leading causes of mental health issues include:
Genetic and biological factors: Mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are believed to have a genetic and biological component, with certain genes and brain chemistry abnormalities increasing the risk for these conditions.
Trauma and life experiences: Traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, violence, or significant life changes (e.g. divorce, job loss, or moving) can contribute to the development of mental health problems.
Substance use: Substance use disorders, including alcohol and drug abuse, can contribute to the development of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis.
Environmental factors: Social and environmental factors such as poverty, lack of access to healthcare, discrimination, and social isolation can contribute to mental health problems.
Chronic stress: Chronic stressors such as work-related stress, financial stress, and relationship problems can contribute to the development of mental health problems over time.
Mental health issues are often caused by a combination of factors, rather than a single cause. Understanding the complex factors that contribute to mental health problems can help individuals and communities develop strategies to prevent and manage these conditions. Furthermore, 1 and 2 are factors that are often outside of our individual control, but 3, 4, and 5 are factors that we can impact to some extent. Read on for tips on how to positively impact your own mental health and learn about the resources your workplace may provide.
What does mental health look like in the United States?
Mental illness is common in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year, and approximately 1 in 25 adults experiences a serious mental illness that significantly interferes with daily life.
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders. Approximately 17.3 million adults in the United States, or 7.1% of the adult population, experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Anxiety disorders are also very common. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 40 million adults in the United States, or 18.1% of the adult population, have an anxiety disorder in any given year.
Mental illness can be particularly challenging for marginalized communities. According to NIMH, rates of mental illness are higher among people who identify as LGBTQIA+ than among the general population. Additionally, BIPOC groups are less likely to receive mental health treatment than white Americans.
Information on mental health in the *intersectional* BIPOC LGBTQIA+ community
Mental illness can have a significant impact on workplace productivity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
These statistics highlight the prevalence and impact of mental health issues in the United States, as well as the unequal burden that marginalized groups bear. It's important to prioritize mental health and wellness for individuals and within organizations in order to create a more inclusive and healthy society.
Mental health varies across the globe, influenced by cultural, social, and economic factors. Here are some general trends in mental health around the world:
High rates of mental health conditions: Mental health conditions are a leading cause of disability and ill-health worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1 in 4 people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.
Disparities in access to care: Access to mental health care varies widely across the globe. Low- and middle-income countries often have limited resources and infrastructure to support mental health care, while high-income countries may have higher rates of access but face challenges in reducing stigma and increasing awareness.
Stigma and discrimination: Stigma and discrimination around mental health are common worldwide and can have a significant impact on individuals seeking care and support. Cultural beliefs, social norms, and lack of awareness and education can contribute to stigma and discrimination.
Increased awareness and advocacy: In recent years, there has been increased global awareness and advocacy around mental health. Efforts to reduce stigma, increase access to care, and improve mental health outcomes have been led by organizations such as the WHO and Mental Health Europe, as well as by individuals and grassroots movements.
Unique cultural influences: Mental health is influenced by cultural and social factors, and can vary widely across different cultures and regions. For example, cultural beliefs around mental health and illness, family support systems, and community norms can all influence mental health outcomes.
What can we do as individuals do to improve our own mental health?
Understand risk factors: a family history of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues, experiencing trauma, excessive alcohol and drug use, poverty, discrimination, lack of access to healthcare, and chronic stress all increase your chances of struggling with mental health. Being prepared can help.
Keep a mental health journal: Writing down thoughts, emotions, and daily experiences can help individuals identify patterns and triggers that may impact their mental health. A mental health journal can also be used to track moods, sleep patterns, and other factors that contribute to mental health.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is a technique that involves paying attention to the present moment and accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment. This can be done through meditation, deep breathing exercises, or simply taking a few minutes each day to focus on the present moment.
Stay physically active: Exercise has been shown to have positive effects on mental health, as it releases endorphins that can improve mood and reduce stress. Even small amounts of physical activity, such as taking a short walk, can have a positive impact on mental health.
Connect with others: Social support is an important factor in mental health, and individuals can improve their mental health by connecting with others. This can be done through joining a club or group, volunteering, or simply reaching out to friends and family members.
Share your story: share your own mental health journey with friends and family, as well as online connections. Doing so can help further destigmatize mental health discussions, and if you share the MHA's screening site you may be able to help others assess their own mental health.
Seek professional help: If individuals are experiencing persistent symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders, it may be helpful to seek professional help. This can include seeing a therapist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional who can provide support and guidance.
Call or email your elected officials: Share why you think mental health should be a priority; ask your governor or mayor to declare May as Mental Health Month; get in touch with your senators; contact your representative. Find yours using the ZIP code search feature at www.house.gov; find out where your state ranks in MHA's most recent State of Mental Health in America report and share with your elected officials; share detailed data about mental health conditions across your state and county
If chronic stress is an issue in your life, try these stress reduction strategies:
Identify the source of your stress: Identifying the specific sources of stress in your life can help you develop targeted strategies for managing them. This might involve keeping a stress diary or talking to a therapist or counselor.
Practice relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can help you relax your body and reduce stress.
Exercise regularly: Exercise is a powerful stress reducer and can help boost your mood and overall sense of well-being. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
Get enough sleep: Sleep is critical for both physical and mental health, and chronic stress can interfere with sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night and practice good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding caffeine and electronics before bedtime.
Make time for self-care: Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as reading, spending time outdoors, or pursuing a hobby.
Practice time-management skills: Feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list can contribute to chronic stress. Use time-management strategies such as prioritizing tasks, delegating responsibilities, and breaking large tasks into smaller ones.
Seek support: Talking to a trusted friend or family member, joining a support group, or seeing a therapist can provide valuable support and help you develop coping strategies for managing chronic stress.
Remember that managing chronic stress is an ongoing process, and what works for one person may not work for another. Be patient and persistent in your efforts to manage stress, and don't hesitate to seek professional help if needed. By incorporating these steps into daily routines, individuals can track and improve their mental health. It's important to remember that mental health is a journey, and taking small steps over time can lead to significant improvements in overall well-being.
Businesses and managers play a crucial role in supporting mental health. Here are ideas for best practices in the workplace:
Offer mental health resources: Providing access to mental health resources such as counseling services, employee assistance programs, or wellness programs can help employees prioritize their mental health and seek support when needed.
Promote work-life balance: Encouraging work-life balance by offering flexible schedules, remote work options, or time off can help employees manage stress and prioritize their mental health.
Create a supportive culture: Creating a culture of openness and support around mental health can help reduce stigma and encourage employees to seek help when needed. This can be done through regular communication about mental health and wellness, training for managers and employees on how to support mental health in the workplace, and offering mental health resources that are easily accessible and confidential.
Provide training and education: Training managers and employees on how to recognize the signs of mental health issues and how to respond appropriately can help create a more supportive and inclusive workplace. This can include training on how to have difficult conversations, how to refer employees to mental health resources, and how to accommodate employees who may need extra support.
Lead by example: Managers can set an example by prioritizing their own mental health and modeling healthy behaviors for their employees. This can include taking breaks, managing workload, and practicing self-care.
Invite a wellness professional, like a clinician, to do a social media takeover. You can also connect with one of MHA's affiliates and bring a speaker to your workplace
Download MHA's Workplace Mental Health Toolkit for more ideas on improving mental health in the workplace
By implementing these strategies, organizations, business owners, and managers can support mental health in the workplace and create a culture of wellness that benefits employees and the organization as a whole. For businesses that prioritize diversity and inclusion, this is especially important, as mental health and wellness can have a significant impact on employee well-being and productivity.
Additional online resources that businesses can use to support mental health in the workplace:
Mental Health America: Mental Health America is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and support for mental health, including a Workplace Wellness program that offers tools and resources for creating a mentally healthy workplace.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI is a grassroots mental health organization that provides education, support, and advocacy for individuals and families affected by mental illness. NAMI has a workplace mental health program that provides resources and training for employers.
Center for Workplace Mental Health: The Center for Workplace Mental Health is a program of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation that provides resources and tools for employers to support mental health in the workplace. Their resources include webinars, toolkits, and case studies.
Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA): EAPA is a professional association for employee assistance professionals and offers resources and training for businesses and EAP providers on supporting mental health in the workplace.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): NIMH is the lead federal agency for research on mental disorders. NIMH is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest biomedical research agency in the world. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Mental health is an important aspect of overall well-being, and it is something that both individuals and organizations can prioritize. As an individual, you have agency in taking care of your own mental health by seeking support, practicing self-care, and developing coping strategies for managing stress. As an organization, business owner, or manager, you have agency in creating a workplace culture that supports mental health by promoting work-life balance, offering mental health resources and benefits, and prioritizing employee well-being. By taking a proactive approach to mental health, we can all work together to create a healthier and more inclusive society. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, and everyone's journey is unique. The most important thing is to prioritize your own mental health and seek help and support when needed.