What’s worrying workers? Today’s employees are dealing with fluctuating stress levels the COVID-19 crisis, the onslaught of 24-hour news cycles, rapidly evolving work conditions, and more.

Fortunately, as our society increasingly recognizes the importance of sound mental health, the opportunities for addressing mental wellness are growing. With World Mental Health Day right around the corner, this is the time to learn about how to improve mental health in a place it can too often be overlooked: the workplace. 

What is World Mental Health Day? 

In 1992, the Deputy Secretary General of the World Federation for Mental Health, Richard Hunter, imagined a day during which mental health resources could be shared and specific issues spotlighted. On October 10 of that year, the Federation chose to commemorate the importance of mental health advocacy and education. 

In 1994, a theme was first implemented, which was “Improving the Quality of Mental Health Services throughout the World.” Since 1996, a theme has been chosen each year to guide celebrations of the holiday. Some of these include “Mental Health and Chronic Physical Illnesses” (2011), “Dignity in Mental Health” (2015), and “Mental Health and Work” (2000-2001). 

The activities take place worldwide, with materials printed in many languages. Events are coordinated throughout the globe by local mental health organizations and practitioners. This year, the theme is “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment—Greater Access.” It centers on mental healthcare as a human right. From more coverage in insurance plans, to recognizing the innovative ways communities have taken care of mental health in this unique moment of crisis, 2020’s WMHD hopes to highlight just how important an investment  mental wellness is.  

Why World Mental Health Day is Important 

Even after nearly 25 years of focusing on mental health each October 10, World Mental Health Day continues to remain important. Now, more than ever, we are seeing just how much mental health can affect a person’s whole life—from their home to the workplace (whether remote or not). Below are specific reasons to participate in World Mental Health Day this year:

  • There are a growing percentage of sufferers with inadequate care. More people are suffering while at the same time unable to access effective care. This is especially true for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), who tend to receive mental health treatment at lower rates. Location also affects treatment, with people in more rural places receiving less therapy but taking more medication for mental health issues. 
  • Mental illness sufferers often experience stigma and discrimination in the workplace. Although awareness about mental health and its attendant issues are growing, misconceptions still surround suffering from poor mental health. In fact, 8 out of 10 workers say the negative perceptions of ill mental health prevent them from seeking treatment.
  • During COVID-19, depression rates have gone up. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, and in turn deeply affected our mental health. Worries have come with a less stable economy, an inability to do things that once brought comfort, and, of course, with the fear of what havoc the illness itself could bring to ourselves and loved ones. In fact, a recent study found that nearly 28% of people surveyed showed signs of diagnosable depression—up from 8% in a survey taken before the pandemic. Along with depression, anxiety and overreliance on alcohol have been reported in the age of COVID-19. Just as the virus imposes new rules on our activities, so too does it impact our inner lives.  

How to observe World Mental Health Day  

Fortunately, there are numerous ways to help improve mental health. What better way to celebrate World Mental Health Day than to implement some positive actions? In preparation for this October 10, consider doing the following:

  • Raise awareness. Simply talking more about mental health is a great way to commemorate World Mental Health Day. Sharing stories and resources with family and friends, coworkers, and more can help create a culture of mental wellness.  
  • Sign on for self-care. Self-care, identified as a positive habit that encourages positive mental health, can nourish mental health in an inexpensive, easy way. Some people practice this individual care through exercise, meditation, journaling, eating healthily, and more. A proven, healthy practice is the act of gratitude—through explicitly naming something you are grateful for each day, you can increase well being. In fact, there is evidence that by deliberately practicing gratitude, you can improve your mental health. 
  • Participate in an official World Mental Health Day event. At least one good aspect of living in a world rendered increasingly remote is our ability to participate in more activities. On October 10, there are many events hosted by a number of health organizations throughout the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding a global forum called The Big Event for Mental Health. Participants can hear from mental health practitioners, world leaders, and other advocates. The World Federation for Mental Health is hosting an art exhibition showcasing the importance of art in mental health healing and bonding. Search the hashtag #ArtForMentalHealth to find creations from artists all over the world. 
  • Take a self-assessment. Gauge your own mental health as a great first step in understanding the role of mental health in your life.  

Bringing World Mental Health Day to the workplace

On October 10 and the rest of the year, it’s important to show employees that their mental health is taken seriously. With the help of HR professionals, business leaders can implement humane policies, activities, and actions to promote and increase the wellbeing of their workforce. 

A good place for businesses to start is taking a critical look at the organization itself. Is mental health addressed in official and less formal ways? See what you already have established to address wellness and understand where improvements could happen. 

Through first taking an inventory of existing practices, HR professionals and company leaders can figure out how, exactly, to create a culture of promoting mental health. Here are four actions to help celebrate October 10. 

  • Organize a wellness activity for in-office or remote workers. Whether you are physically or remotely together, set up a group activity to promote positive mental health. This could be a group meditation session, a yoga class from a local instructor or colleague who practices, or a check-in session where employees get a chance to more deeply share how they are doing. A study done in the midst of the pandemic found that almost 40% of employees had not been asked about their experience in these challenging circumstances, and 40% wish that managers had done so. Simply showing employees that you are listening can go a long way in supporting mental health. 
  • Plan team building activities to foster community. Plan a volunteer activity for October 10, which people can join or donate to. If volunteering in person is not possible due to COVID-19, consider making a donation in the name of the company. For both, solicit help from all workers, seeking their input about where best to give energy and money. Especially relevant organizations could include those supporting the Black community and other communities of color. 
  • Commit to recognizing and addressing mental health in the workplace. October 10 is an ideal day to unveil a mental health initiative. This initiative could take many forms—a committee on mental health in the workplace including a mix of employees, a guide for supervisors created with the help of professionals, or a company newsletter that addresses mental health regularly. 
  • Consider your policies. Demonstrate generosity in how you address paid time off, leave, email/virtual communications, health benefits, and more. Modifying how performance reviews are conducted—to be more open and reciprocal—can demonstrate your dedication to overall workplace wellness. 

By showcasing wellness practices and policies on World Mental Health Day, employers destigmatize asking for help, resulting in a healthier, productive workforce. There is help available for HR professionals and company leaders in navigating the complex world of employee mental health. With precise, individualized solutions, Spring Health can help company wellbeing in both stressful and calmer times. Request a demo and see what Spring Health offers at springhealth.com. 

Nora Hickey
Nora is a staff writer for Spring Health.

October 5, 2020