By Robert Goldman, Psy.D., J.D., Webb Garrison, Ph.D., and Jaclyn Gordon
Mental Health Awareness Week in 2021 was October 3rd-9th. Dedicating only one week out of the year to mental health awareness is essentially the same as brushing your teeth for only a week out of the year. While the message and sentiment of Mental Health Awareness Week are important and well-intended, the reality is that wellness is an effort, and needs consistent and ongoing practice.
Research reveals workplace mental health challenges
Just recently, the American Psychological Association released the Well-Being Survey for the Year 2021, and the results are striking. In a variety of different professions that were examined, 40% of individuals reported feelings of emotional exhaustion and 43% reported a mental health-related issue that prevented them from effectively performing at work. Additionally, 3 in 5 employees reported feeling unmotivated, tired, and disinterested in work. Struggling mental health does not only impact the individual’s personal life but work-related stress has also been found to impact workers’ performance and productivity on the job.
Clearly, the issue at hand and these statistics that lay out the prevalence of these challenges warrant more than a single week dedicated to raising awareness. Long story short, we need more to support the mental and physical well-being of everyone in our society. We need more support from companies and their higher-ups who make decisions, and more work to destigmatize mental health so we understand that we are all simply human, after all.
Among some of the leaders who have called for more to be done in the workplace, American Psychological Association’s CEO Dr. Arthur Evans suggested companies reexamine the workplace and take some of the lessons learned in the pandemic that shed light on the importance of mental health.
Additionally, it is not only employees who are struggling but also those in senior-level and management positions who are also experiencing mental health challenges. This furthers the argument that the entire landscape of the workplace needs to adapt and change to fit the growing need for mental health support.
It is also might explain why former employees are not flocking back to work. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June 2021 alone, 3.9 million workers resigned from their jobs nationwide. Meanwhile, job openings rose to a new record high of 10.1 million positions. Additionally, a FlexJobs survey that was released in April 2021 polled more than 2,100 people who worked remotely during the pandemic and found that 58% would “absolutely” look for a new job if they couldn’t continue remote work in their current role.
The need for real change
In general, real change must occur at a systemic level, and not just in providing an email acknowledging Mental Health Awareness Week. Mental health days and posts about mental health week are great, but making a real change and actively providing mental health support in the workplace can help employees feel supported and build resilience. According to the American Psychological Association’s Well-Being 2021 Survey report, 87% of workers reported they would feel less psychological strain if their employers took real action to address the workers’ real needs and concerns.
Building resiliency, managing stress, and prioritizing can look different for every person and every workplace. Each company, office, and work environment will need a unique service that meets their needs so that each workplace can ideally become a center of health, as well as productivity or service. While the recent findings of the wellness survey are powerful messages, we need advocates such as Evans to push for real change and the willingness of business leaders to listen to the needs of their employees.
Webb Garrison, Ph.D., is a psychologist and educator deeply committed to promoting well-being in its many forms.
Jaclyn Gordon is a fourth-year doctoral student in Hofstra University’s School-Community Psy.D. program.