Prioritizing Mental Health: From Awareness to Action in May and Beyond

Perspective from Andrew Limouris, President & CEO, Medix 

Every decade in this country has seen its national mental health challenges. There was the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II in the forties, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, and Watergate in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. 

That means we 21st-century human beings do not have a corner on mental health and stress management challenges, although thanks to COVID-19 and other life-altering events of our time, it might feel that way. 

The Heart of the Matter  

In 1949, May became Mental Health Awareness Month, an observation established by Mental Health America to educate people about mental health conditions. Here are some sobering statistics based on data recently published by that organization:   

  • 20% of Americans experience mental illness every year.
  • 47.2% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2021.
  • 5% of U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year.
  • In 2021, 65.4% of U.S. adults experiencing severe mental illness received treatment.

People with mental health challenges can’t just leave those issues at home when they head off to work. They carry their challenges with them 24/7. 

Losing (and Finding) Your Balance

Finding the sweet spot for optimal mental health requires regulating our approach to everyday living – impossible to achieve consistently, but a goal we should aim for. That means balancing our worker selves with our player selves, our athlete selves with our couch potato selves, and our brainstormer selves with our meditative selves. It means tapping into the things that propel us forward and the things that let us drift, weightless and relaxed.

Take time for an occasional self-assessment:

  • What are my favorite activities on both ends of the intensity spectrum? Tackle football with friends? Stargazing? 
  • Do I say no when people are imposing on me?
  • How’s my sleep? Do I have a wind-down routine and a consistent bedtime?
  • Can I shut off my phone to focus on family and friends?

Good Guys and Bad Guys in the Quest for Optimal Mental Health

There are plenty of “bad guys” ready to undermine our mental health. Among the worst are our thoughts, whizzing through our heads so fast that we don’t notice how negative they are. These are the zingers like, “I’m so stupid,” or “unattractive,” or “boring.” Learning to catch and correct those thoughts in real time takes practice but goes a long way toward maintaining a positive self-image. 

See how many of those self-directed arrows you can catch before they strike. Flipping the message from “I’m so stupid” to “That wasn’t the smartest thing to do” becomes more natural over time and causes less damage to our psyches. You can acknowledge your flaws without beating yourself up. 

Are you eating mainly healthful foods in the right amounts, or binging on potato chips after going to the kitchen for an apple? 

Are your alcohol and caffeine intake under control? Would meditation be worth a try? Do you give yourself credit, even when you aren’t perfect?

Kevin N. Lawrence titled his book, Your Oxygen Mask First: 17 Habits to Help High Achievers Survive & Thrive in Leadership & Life. Kevin serves as a coach to Medix executives, and his book’s title reflects one of the best analogies I’ve ever heard for prioritizing our own needs so that we can better care for others. So, I’ll ask you: Do you practice self-care? It’s not selfish; it’s essential. 

You Gotta Have Friends

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other people are key to our overall well-being. 

“When people are socially connected and have stable and supportive relationships, they are more likely to make healthy choices and to have better mental and physical health outcomes. They are also better able to cope with hard times, stress, anxiety, and depression.”

Impact of Mental Health on Organizations 

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, more than 3 million people voluntarily leave their jobs in any given month, contributing to staff turnover costs of $1 trillion annually. And researchers and analysts estimate that 2.76 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in February 2024. That’s not to say that all those people quit their jobs due to mental health concerns, but the likelihood that mental health was a factor in some cases remains. 

Assessing the Mental Health Supports Your Organization Offers 

Medix prioritizes our teammates’ mental health in every way we can, including providing:

  • Impact groups (often called employee resource groups at other companies) to help teammates understand each other’s cultures, mentor one another, network, advocate, and more 
  • Maven, a confidential mental health resource for parents and children 
  • Extra paid time off specifically for mental health, over and above other paid time off 

What does your organization offer teammates? Consider these possibilities, too: 

  • Robust employee assistance programs (EAPs) with free limited term therapy and wellness sessions
  • Fitness stipends or reimbursements to help teammates maintain good mental health by moving their bodies and improving their general health 

Walking the Talk of Mental Health with Teammates

I encourage companies to do everything possible to destigmatize mental health challenges and create an organizational culture where mental health is a top priority. 

Ask teammates how they’re doing or if they need anything. Make it known that yours is a family-first workplace that will be as flexible as possible when teammates must attend to family needs. And make feedback as positive and constructive as possible. Instead of asking how a teammate plans to improve, ask how you can help them improve.   

Teammates are the heart and brains of your business, and hearts and brains are worth caring for.  

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