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5 Ways Leaders Can Immediately Help the Mental Health Crisis

Mental health has reached a point of crisis. Leaders can and must step up to address the stigma and work towards resolution.

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BY Marissa Levin - 18 Jun 2018

5 Ways Leaders Can Immediately Help the Mental Health Crisis

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

For many people, "mental health" used to be a topic that applied to "other people." "Disorders" such as depression and anxiety didn't impact "normal" people. Today, mental illness is a common thread in most families:

  • 44 million adults experience mental illness in a given year
  • 16 million American adults live with major depression
  • 42 million American adults live with anxiety disorder
  • One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by the age of 24.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide
  • Mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year

Mental illness impacts everyone.

I'm very transparent about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. As a leader and influencer, I believe it's my obligation to shed light into the darkest corners of my journey so that others know they are not alone in their fight.

The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have amplified the conversation about mental illness, following the string of horrific school shootings that continue to occur in the American school systems.

Business leaders can not sit idle or remain silent.

Here are 5 initiatives leaders can consider today to start breaking down the stigmas around mental health, in their organizations and beyond.

  1. Examine the culture.
    Neuroscience research proves that employees crave 3 things: to feel safe, to feel they belong, and to feel that they matter. When organizations provide these, employee loyalty doubles.

    Organizations that foster cultures of trust report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout.
  2. Create opportunities and spaces for daily time-outs.
    Mindfulness and meditation are increasingly becoming mainstream concepts that organizations are integrating into their health and wellness programs. Apple, Nike, and Google offer for mindfulness curriculums for their employees.

    However, there are many approaches that companies of all sizes can take to encourage organization-wide mindfulness.

    Further, leaders can role-model healthy, stress-reducing behaviors such as taking regularly scheduled breaks, or engaging in walking meetings, rather than staying chained to a desk or conference room. They can also institute "mental health days" so that employees know it's ok to step away from work to care for themselves.
  3. Make fun a line item in the budget.
    When I was running my first company Information Experts, we experienced the same stresses of any fast-growing organization. We established a Good Times Committee comprised of employees who planned events throughout the year to inject fun into the culture. These activities took the edge off through our most stressful times.
  4. Be aware of employee triggers.
    I remind all of my CEO clients that as the CEO, they play the role of the "Chief Emotional Officer." When we hire employees, they all arrive with invisible but significant "baggage." They bring with them at least 20 years of lifetime history that has shaped who they are, and contributed to how they arrived to this point in time. They are so much more than what their resume conveys, or who showed up in an interview.

    Seeing our employees as people - and not simply resources to help us achieve a revenue or growth target - is essential in creating empathetic, emotional connections.

    There will be times when life impacts how employees show up and how they perform. One can not simply separate life from work. Knowing potential triggers and giving employees room to be human goes a long way in fostering a mentally healthy environment.
  5. Provide access to resources for support.
    One of my clients runs a Cancer Center. His employees help patients and family members that are facing life-or-death scenarios. These stressful situations provided no emotional outlets for the employees. We established closed roundtables in which employees could discuss their situations and the impacts they were having in their personal and professional lives. Simply creating a time and space for them to release their frustrations and stress has resulted in much greater employee satisfaction and engagement.

    Organizations can also provide access to brochures for mental health support, as well as websites and phone numbers such as The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and National Alliance on Mental Illness. Sharing this information with employees conveys that asking for help is acceptable and encouraged, and that no one has to suffer in silence or alone.

Leaders have the obligation and opportunity to be the change they wish to see in the world. Regardless of title, position, or what's in our bank accounts, we are all in this together.


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