Why Leaders Should Care About World Mental Health Day

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Today we join the rest of the world in observing World Mental Health Day, a practice started by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) in 1992. The WFMH has worked since 1948 “to advance, among all peoples and nations, the prevention of mental and emotional disorders, the proper treatment and care of those with such disorders, and the promotion of mental health.” Since 1996, the WFMH has developed an annual theme that embodies the global conversation around mental health. This year’s theme, “Make Mental Health & Well-being for All a Global Priority,” is especially fitting.

It’s estimated that over 10% of the world’s population suffers from a mental health concern. In the United States, that number is closer to 20%. With the onset and continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic, medical professionals have seen a 25% increase in the prevalence of mental health concerns, namely anxiety and depression. Now, more than ever, folks recognize mental health as an essential component of overall well-being and honor our collective need for care.

Physical and mental health are closely connected in ways that have long been researched and reported but seem to have become more readily acknowledged as of late. Several mental health issues have been linked to increased risk for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, digestive disorders, and chronic pain, to name a few. And just like we recognize the disparities in access to healthcare for marginalized identities, these groups face significant issues obtaining access to mental healthcare, too. In order to address these inequities, the WFMH started World Mental Health Day to raise awareness about global mental health issues and facilitate solutions and support.

In addition to raising awareness, World Mental Health Day normalizes conversation about mental health as a legitimate concern affecting people worldwide. Sometimes folks experience shame around a mental health diagnosis as if it’s something within their control to avoid, as opposed to a result of a multitude of potential factors such as heredity, past or current trauma, in utero exposure to toxins, and/or physical medical diagnosis. This understanding and recognition can provide those that deal with mental health issues a relief from the stigma that has historically accompanied such conditions. 

Part of destigmatizing mental illness also involves putting structures in place to support folks, especially in the workplace. Telling your employees to participate in “self-care” without making space for such a practice doesn’t communicate that prioritizing mental health is an organizational value. Consider how you can support employees holistically by examining your leave policies, scheduling, and health benefits.

  • Do employees have the ability to take mental health days in addition to their existing leave? 
  • Are resources provided during onboarding explicitly informing employees of the mental health benefits offered? 
  • How do you check in with folks to ensure they’re not experiencing significant overwhelm or burnout? 

These are just a few questions you can ask yourself as you move towards a more inclusive, supportive workplace.

In observance of World Mental Health Day, we honor the need for care, rest, and access to the necessary resources that ensure all people can receive treatment for any and all conditions, visible or otherwise. And as we continue the work to abolish inequity in the workplace and beyond, we want to remind folks that rest is essential and revolutionary. It does not need to be earned; rather, it is a right that all are entitled to by virtue of our humanity.