Breaking the Mental Health Taboo in Organizations
Mental health issues are on the rise and burnouts caused by chronic workplace stress are more common than ever. New research shows that all of us experience mental health issues at some point of our lives. Even so, mental health still stays as a taboo at many workplaces. In this guest blog, Kevin Husell shares Accenture's approach in dealing with mental health.
We live in a world of constant change and it can be argued that this results in unceasing high levels of stress. One of the unwanted outcomes of this is that mental health issues are on the rise and burnouts caused by chronic workplace stress are more common than ever. The psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees are estimated to cost $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S. The estimated total loss in Finland to national economy per year is 24 billion €. The numbers themselves are shocking, not to mention the suffering these complications cause to people. This is not sustainable, nor should it be acceptable. If we want different results, we need to try different approaches. One crucial approach is to acknowledge and embrace the topic with its facts in organizations and break the taboo of mental health.
The topic has remained a taboo partly because it is a general misconception that only a limited number of people face mental health challenges. I say we all experience them, in some form and degree at some point in our lives. Back in 2001 WHO concluded in their study that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.
"It's not just one in four, it's all of us."
A more recent study from UK by Accenture & This Can Happen shows that it’s not just one in four, it’s all of us. At least nine out of ten workers reported having faced mental health challenges. Still, the taboo of mental health can greatly disrupt how one seeks and gets help – according to WHO nearly two-thirds of people who have experienced a mental disorder decide not to seek professional help. The threshold clearly needs to be lowered. Our findings show that in organizations where mental health support is an integral part of the company’s culture, workers of all ages are almost four times more likely to say that work has a positive influence on their mental health. Increasing mental health issues are also an increasing financial burden, but it has been estimated that one-fourth of the costs to employers can be avoided if mental health challenges and support are managed well – which makes it even more important for every organization to focus on nurturing mental well-being.
I am a Mental Health Ally
In today’s work culture where performance is persistently evaluated, it’s tempting for an employee to try to perform constantly better in exchange for their health, both physical and mental. I believe that we need to make changes in our work culture by making changes in our habits. To make changes we need to address the subject. I wanted to be a part of the change, and that was the reason for me joining Accenture’s Mental Health Ally network in 2018.
Mental Health Ally network (MHA) is our way of focusing on mental well-being and making the topic and support for it more tangible. The Mental Health Allies are volunteer colleagues from across the company, trained to listen and help their Accenture colleagues get the support they need. Globally, we have active MHA programs in 22+ countries with more than 5300 employees trained as allies. This activity contributes to our aim to create a culture where our people can be who they are and be their best, both professionally and personally.
Being an equitable organization means removing boundaries that prevent an inclusive and productive environment.
The Mental Health Allies help exactly with this.
We currently have 65 certified allies in our Finnish network. The local network collaborates actively with other Nordic countries and e.g. organizes open workshops related to mental health and well-being in general. In addition to the Mental Health Allies, we leverage mental well-being support through supervisors, team leads and project managers; our health care and well-being program “myHealth”; and our occupational health care team. We have wanted to lower the threshold to reach out for professional support: appointments with psychologists can be booked without doctor’s referral, and short psychotherapy is also available.
I have found the network a good place for sharing knowledge and experiences, for being proactive and supporting colleagues with this topic that has many sides and layers. Mental health is not only about work, it’s about everything; what happens in our personal life, how we take care of our health, our sleep, nutrition, how we exercise and recover. I’ve personally held sessions and workshops internally at Accenture where I’ve talked about well-being and ways to improve it. Topics close to my heart are sleep, stress, workday optimization, and the benefits of exercising for our brain and health in general. Additionally, I have my website where I blog about well-being. I believe that the best way to prevent burnouts and Mental health issues is by being proactive and creating an environment where people feel safe to talk about themselves and their feelings. Writing and being active in the MHA network are my ways of reaching out and trying to make a difference.
When organizational culture is supportive and open around mental health it makes a significant difference to the way people feel and to their ability to thrive.
It must not be unacceptable to raise one’s hand in time of need. An environment like this is created through trust, and it will generate the courage to be vulnerable and human in times of need. Talking about one’s limitations and feelings is not a weakness; it’s a strength and it must be treated as such.
Mental Health Ally Lead, Accenture Finland
Accenture & This Can Happen, 2018. It’s not 1 in 4; It’s all of us
World Health Organization, 2001. Mental disorders affect one in four people
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