Mental health has become a topic that companies can no longer shy away from, especially in a post-pandemic future; it’s something that affects consumers, employees, and the rest of their stakeholders.
In 2009 while working on the front lines as a member of Bellevue Hospital’s adult psychiatric inpatient unit, I saw firsthand the complex health-equity and access issues facing New York City, and the stigma placed on patients experiencing acute mental health challenges. Fast forward fourteen years, mental health care and well-being have become one of the most pressing employee and community issues of our time. There is an urgent need among our youth, our communities, and inside our workplaces.
The issue of mental health and well-being is universally important. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you or someone close to you has likely been impacted by mental health in some way, shape or form. People now expect their employers to play a role in increasing access to care and resources for them, their families, and their communities. According to an American Psychological Association study in 2022, 81% of employees agreed that how employers support mental health is an important factor when they look for work opportunities, further demonstrating that mental health is a core business issue.
Companies have a collective responsibility to act. But where to begin when approaching such a widespread, immense problem? Here are three recommendations all companies can take to get started:
1. Make Mental Health Part of Your Company Culture
- Raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health internally. This can be through Lunch and Learns, sharing high-impact resources from experts including your own Employee Resource Groups, or inviting professionals to share strategies for coping with and talking about mental health. Find ways to welcome dialogue around mental health that feels relevant and in tune with your company culture.
- Improve access to care and support by making sure your company provides clearly defined benefits and coverage that removes barriers to care. Whether you provide health insurance inclusive of therapy coverage, wellness resources like meditation and mindfulness apps, or paid mental health days, make it easy for employees to navigate resources and access the help they need.
- Take a holistic and integrated approach to well-being, especially when it comes to employees’ mental health. With people facing more demands on their time than ever before, it’s essential to actively listen to your workforce to prevent burnout and to understand how you can support them to be their best selves at work.
2. Determine How Your Company Can Address Mental Health in the Community
Do your research to understand where there is the greatest unmet need for mental health care and awareness, and where your company is best positioned to help. Pick up the phone and talk to experts. Ultimately, your goal is to identify the gaps that your company can address and take a leadership role in. For example:
- There is a shortage of trained mental health professionals, especially those who are equipped to serve adolescents. Is your company positioned to train and recruit more mental health providers?
- While many youth acknowledge they need help, they don’t know where to start. Do issues like access and resource identification align with your company’s mission?
- Peer-to-peer support helps to fill gaps in mental healthcare. Is this an area your company wants to support or facilitate?
Identify those nonprofit organizations that are already leading impactful work in the space, who align with your company’s ethos, and who you might be able to partner with to advance change.
Look at what other companies are already doing in the mental health space and which companies are leading in this work. Think about how you might be able to complement their existing efforts.
3. Create Collective Impact through Mutually Beneficial Partnerships
Partnerships around mental health can reduce stigma, increase awareness, and expand services and resources. Whether you’re gleaning insights from individuals with direct experiences, engaging support networks such as parents and teachers, providing access to treatment and care, or advancing research and advocacy, your approach to activating a partnership should both fill an existing need and feel authentic to your brand.
Ensure you’re aligned with your nonprofit partner’s goals. Each party should be equally invested in the partnership’s work and overall success:
- Ask to look at the nonprofit’s strategic plan. Where is there alignment for collective impact? Do you have the same goals?
- Together with your nonprofit partner, define what success looks like, as well as outline the KPIs you will be using to measure success. Discussing this at the beginning of the process will set expectations and allow for a smoother partnership and reporting process.
Effective partnerships, especially those focused on improving mental health, take time to demonstrate impact. Consider what a multi-year partnership might look like so that you can invest in the work more deeply and give yourself the opportunity to measure your partnership’s impact over time.
Assess your assets. Outside of funding, what other assets can your company leverage that will further enhance the goal of your partnership around mental health? How can your employees’ skills complement the work you’re doing? Is there a product that you can donate in kind to support your nonprofit partner and/or the beneficiaries they’re serving?
Addressing mental health and wellness isn’t easy, and it truly takes a village. Whether it’s an entire inpatient unit providing patient care, or a corporate responsibility team working to address access and stigma, tackling mental health requires breaking down silos to develop deeper understanding, expertise and cross-sector collaboration. For companies, mental health care is an issue that’s not going away and something we can and must get behind; rally your stakeholders and be bold, taking action both internally and externally. Show up for your employees and communities, not just because it’s a nice thing to do, but because it’s vital for business.