Prioritizing Mental Wellness
Better Help. Therapy for Black Girls. Self-care. Mental wellness. After decades of peddling Weight Watchers, intermittent fasting, and kale chips, pundits and researchers now acknowledge our emotional health is important, too. Maybe it’s an aftershock of the pandemic, the millions buried, or the rise in anxiety and depression. Whatever the case, employees have support and an invitation to embrace wholistic healing: mind, body, and spirit.
During the pandemic, 40% of US adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders, with Blacks and Hispanics more likely than white adults to report such symptoms (www.kff.org).
This is a staggering and troubling stat with far-reaching implications. When 4 in 10 adults are struggling, families, children, and colleagues are impacted. The average adult spends a minimum of 10 hours a day working, either on-site or remote. Balancing the shifting demands of work, the fluidity of the pandemic, while maintaining mental stability requires external support.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
Since people are battling COVID fatigue and fear of a mandatory return to work, shouldn’t companies hype their focus on EAP? Many companies require wellness surveys, biometric submissions, and blood work to earn discounts on healthcare premiums. They push weight loss and smoking cessation programs like Naturally Slim and QuitAssist, but give short shrift to counseling services.
Most EAPs offer a maximum of 5 sessions before the employee needs to pay for services. This can be a gating factor to investing in mental health. Not only that, for Black women, there are other frustrations with EAP.
- Fear that visits are not anonymous.
- Difficulty finding therapists who look like them.
- Persistent issues securing appointments and referrals.
- A general lack of culturally competent therapists.
When employees finally make the decision to seek therapy, these roadblocks can deter them from continuing the process. Meanwhile their mental health and work product suffer.
Black Women & Mental Health
Many Black women suffer in silence moving forward to new environments while carrying baggage from the old. Seeking solace in shared experiences is comforting, but does not offering healing from years of deferred or delayed promotions, unmet D&I commitments, and toxic work environments. I worked in a toxic environment for years before the stress took a toll. By the time I found a therapist I was at the point of quitting. My experience is not unique. I talk with women regularly who are torn between staying and going. They need health insurance, their salary, but they also need peace of mind.
Culturally and traditionally, Black women are more likely to rely on spiritual guidance from a pastor or bible study leader than reach out to a therapist. What happens at home, stays at home, is a typical refrain for many Black women. Paying to talk with a therapist about work problems feels like a luxury, not a necessity. Often the connection between mental wellness and physical wellness are overlooked. When blood pressure spikes (a result of unmanaged stress), fatigue and insomnia lead to sleepless nights, and diabetic conditions reach epic proportions (longer work days, Uber eats, fewer home cooked meals), therapy is the last resort.
Change the Focus
For leaders to meet revenue and productivity targets, resource loading is essential and this means ensuring all teams are fully staffed. Tossing aside HR red tape related to hiring and allowing leaders to fill open positions quickly. Candidates with 75% of the skills can learn the remaining 25%, but searching for unicorns delays the process and puts greater stress on overburdened leaders and staff. Undue stress exacerbates anxiety and the proverbial straw breaks.
Organizational health and employee mental health are two sides of the same coin. Focusing on KPIs and OKRs without equal attention on employee mental stability is a mistake many companies make. When folks stop showing up, or flat out quit (hello, The Great Resignation) these are indicators of an organizational imbalance and portends attrition.
Companies can shift the stats in the right direction by: offering mental health days (as some companies have done), extending remote work as the nation fights omicron, including mental health counseling as part of the health benefits package (not an add-on), and adding employee wellness to annual success measures. These simple changes can add tremendous benefits to employee wellness and the bottom line.