portrayal as a season of change is cliche for good reason: like all good
cliches, it’s come from truth. Winter eases off its chokehold on flowers and
trees, creatures emerge from their wintery cocoons, and the sun hangs around a
little earlier and a little later, much to the delight of most normal humans.
Spring is a busy shoulder season for the human population, too. We shake off
wintery routines and shift into new ones; more time is spent outside; and our
lived experience changes just as much as the world around us.
That’s why May is the perfect time for Mental Health Month, an occasion observed around the United States since 1949. (That makes this year the 70th observance!) Mental Health America has led the campaign, offering toolkits and information packages for interested parties to access. This includes workplaces: corporate participation accounts for a significant portion of Mental Health Month activity, and activating these discussions in the office is important given ties between depression and the workplace in America.
Mental Health Month has traditionally centred around the tenet of awareness-raising, which is a critical tool in the struggle to address mental health. Destigmatizing is the first step towards healing and action. But it is striking that, 70 years later, we are having the same conversations centering on destigmatization and awareness.
This Mental Health Month, it is vital that we begin to shift the conversation toward more material means and supports. As important as programs like healthy eating and exercise regimens are to encouraging a stronger and more stable lifestyle, when these are the only topics of discussion or remedies available, they effectively silo and isolate the issue as one that can be fixed through physical activity or maintaining a better diet. The reality of the matter is that most mental illnesses require clinical treatment, which costs money—a lot of it.
When preparing discussions around Mental Health Month, consider shifting conversations from the abstract to the real: focus on access to resources, and how people are or are not able to receive the treatment they need. (This, of course, depends on group comfortability with these conversations. Each workplace is different.) Recent MHA data shows that over 56% of American adults did not receive treatment for their mental illness. Workers cannot function well if they are grappling with not just mental illness, but the additional stress caused by either an inability to address it or the financial burden of addressing it.
In America, where random health crises can still bankrupt and financially devastate a family, it is especially important to consider your responsibility to your workers. While many companies will offer health coverage, mental health services are often only available on more expensive plans, which means individuals will be less likely to access them. Democratizing those resources via more affordable insurance plans is one step you can take to ensuring workplace mental wellness.
While awareness-raising campaigns are still important, focusing solely on these can hinder our abilities to truly address mental illness. This Mental Health Month, stimulate open, supportive dialogue with your employees about what they need to ensure their mental health. This information-gathering can then be turned into action and policy at your company, when possible. But if you’re going to talk the talk on mental health, make sure that you can walk it, too.