Mental health can mean different things to different people. Some might confuse mental illness with mental health. In this article, I want to address the importance of mental health for leaders and their teams.
Origins of mental health
In the mid-19th century, a man named William Sweetser coined the term mental hygiene, which we can see as an important predecessor to modern approaches to promoting positive mental health. We can find mentions of “mental health” in English language well before 20th century, but there is no reference that specifically talks about it being used for anything other than medical purposes until 1946.
Despite almost a century-long effort at promoting mental health, many still view it as just another discipline in the medical field. Development happened both through psychiatry and psychology, but sadly, it’s still not fully appreciated by many people today!
What is mental health
Mental health, according to the World Health Organization, is “the state of wellbeing in which every individual recognizes his or her own potential, can handle the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to her or his community.”
Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The data shows that 450 million people worldwide have a mental ill-health. This affects their self-esteem and leads to difficulty in relationships and everyday life.
Mental health in societies and cultures
Mental health has many meanings. Different societies, groups, cultures, institutions, and professions all have different opinions about what mental health means. They also have different opinions about how to help someone who has mental health problems.
Research has shown that people are sometimes scared of talking about mental health. It means people often refuse to admit to having challenges with mental. They might even deny it entirely.
As leaders, we don’t want our people to think it’s wrong to talk about mental health. People need to feel comfortable talking about mental health.
Misconceptions about mental health
There are still many people that believe mental health problems make someone weak. This is not true. People with mental health problems can be successful at their jobs and have things in their lives that they enjoy doing.
Many of our most famous leaders had mental health conditions. Abraham Lincoln was one of them according to letters written by his friends. It also seems from research that Abraham Lincoln’s mental health condition ran in his family.
Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most well-known leaders of modern times. It is very rare that people write about his experience with depression. The 1968 Time Magazine article mentioned he tried to commit suicide twice before the age of 13.
How leaders feel about mental health
Business leaders may have a hard time with mental health, because they have a lot of stress. They might feel like they need to keep it private because they worry that people will think less of them.
Kate Hull-Rodgers, an international leading authority on the strategic use of Humor in the Workplace, says:
Jason Saltzman, former CEO and Founder of Alley, says that:
In his experience, when you’re honest about your problems, people will have more respect for you as a leader. They’ll also feel less alone since they’ll know that you can understand their problems.
What can leaders do to improve mental health in the workplace
Good mental health is important for everyone. Leaders play an important role in making sure that people have good mental health by giving them time off and looking out for them.
Leaders can set the tone for a happy workplace. They control how work is done and what the expectations are. They must be careful with setting unrealistic expectations, giving people too much work or tight deadlines. Leaders can influence how good someone’s mental health is at their job.
Create a safe environment
As leaders, if we want to help people with mental health, the first step is to talk about it. We need to make it safe for people to talk about this challenge. This means making it normal and stopping discrimination against people who have a mental health issue.
Create a supportive culture
Leaders should look at what benefits and resources already available to employees. They should see if they are meaningful and appropriate for their employees. A company can address prevention of mental health problems and support for people who have the problem.
How I struggled and overcame challenges with mental health
Going through all these details, I’ve realized that I found myself in situations that were a picture-perfect example of how workplace affects mental health and how leaders can influence it for the better.
I’ve worked in 2 high-stress, high-pressure industries: construction, and hospitality. While I really enjoyed working in both, I’ve found myself caught in a downward spiral several times. The worst thing about it, I didn’t even realize I had issues with mental health, namely, anxiety.
All this pressure to meet the project deadlines, minimize cost, increase profits, have led me to a place where I felt like I can’t stop the wheel from spinning. I can clearly remember a few occasions where I felt my heart racing and I haven’t moved out of my chair. I knew something wasn’t right, but I just brushed it off, because I was supposed to be the role model, the tough one.
Eventually, I learned that not talking about it made it even worse. I addressed it head on, opened to a few people about my anxiety, and started a new journey. Journey where I committed to creating a safe place for people to talk about mental health, as it is crucial for people, team members, leaders, and the entire workplace.
Mental Health is Crucial for Leaders
Whether you are a leader or aspire to be one, I believe everyone can gain something from talking about mental health. Sometimes, it may feel scary to talk about it, but if you look at it from a different perspective, together, we can help our people succeed and stay mentally healthy.
What is your experience with mental health? Share your thoughts in the comments.