Make This Mental Health Month Different

5 min read • May 01, 2021 • Jesse Sumrak

Another year, another May. However, this year is different.

We’re still climbing out of the worst pandemic in over 100 years while swimming in the mire of an economic depression equal to that of the Great Depression. People have died, jobs have been lost, and a contentious election tore America’s partisan divide even deeper.

Not to be a downer, but life lately has been an up-and-down roller coaster of a dumpster fire—and it’s taking its toll on Americans’ mental health.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has conducted its “Stress in America” survey since 2007, but the 2020 survey is different. It reveals that the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a host of other external factors, is having real and dire consequences on our minds and bodies.

“We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come,” the APA report states in its foreword. “We need to act right now to help those who need it and to prevent a much more serious and widespread mental health crisis.”

While May might seem like just another mental health awareness month, it brings with it an important (and potentially life-saving) opportunity to make a real difference. As a small business owner, there’s a lot you can do to prioritize your employees’ mental health.

Below, we’ll walk through ways you can better support your employees. Some tactics are easy, while others will require time, money, and energy—but the effort is more than worth it.

This article is less of a how-to and more of a please-do. Don’t just read it and move on with your day—do something about it.

Get a Feel for How Your Employees Are Doing

You need to figure out the state of your employees’ mental health. Take an anonymous poll, form focus groups, get your leaders in a room for real talk—or do all of the above.

Find out if employees are feeling overworked or burned out. Don’t just ask about their workloads—while respecting privacy, evaluate their overall well-being with anonymized data. For example, it doesn’t matter if an employee’s calendar is looking light if they just lost a family member to COVID.

Company leaders need to “understand how to treat employees and how to give grace during times of stress, I think that’s where [they’re] going to make the biggest impact,” says Patricia Grabarek, a professor of psychology at USC.

Implement Actionable Solutions

If your employees’ mental health evaluations uncover concerning issues, provide solutions. No, you can’t fix all of your employees’ concerns—but you can make a real difference with the resources, policies, and support you provide.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Allow Schedule Flexibility: Focus on the work getting done and less on how it gets done. Give your employees the freedom to escape the 9-to-5 work schedule and create a schedule that works for them. That might mean 7-to-3, 12-to-8, or even a hodgepodge of hours throughout the day.
  • Let Employees Turn Off: Set boundaries for work messaging. Don’t just tell employees not to answer emails after 5pm—stop sending emails after 5pm. The same goes for the weekends: give your employees time and space to rest and decompress before returning to work.
  • Provide Additional Paid Time Off: Your business will work more efficiently with well-rested, healthy employees. It’s worth taking a day or 2 off or providing your employees with a 3-day weekend here and there to help everyone recover. While it might seem like time and money lost, you’ll reap the rewards in productivity.

Like we said above, not every mental health support tactic is going to be easy. Some will require time and money. However, these are all smart business decisions for both the short term and long term—and they’re also just honest-to-goodness tactics that show you care about the real people beneath the title of “employees.”

Provide Support and Resources

Some employees will need more support than others, and this is your opportunity to give it to them. Some employers offer free childcare services for parents, while others guarantee no layoffs.

Point your staff to easily accessible resources. Don’t assume they know where to look when times get hard:

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 911 in case of emergency.
  • Mental Health America: Mental Health America provides a website full of reliable information around mental health, getting help, and how to take action.
  • Online Therapy: Employees can access various free online therapy options to find the counseling they need.
  • Headspace: Headspace is a subscription-based meditation app to help with anxiety and sleep issues. Some employers are footing the bill to gift employees memberships.

We compiled a full list of other resources and apps here.

Don’t let this May come and go like the months before it. Make it a May to remember by prioritizing the mental health and wellness of your employees. It’s more than a sound business decision—it’s just being a good person.

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Jesse Sumrak

Jesse Sumrak is a Social Media Manager for SendGrid, a leading digital communication platform. He's created and managed content for startups, growth-stage companies, and publicly-traded businesses. Jesse has spent almost a decade writing about small business and entrepreneurship topics, having built and sold his own post-apocalyptic fitness bootstrapped startup. When he's not dabbling in digital marketing, you'll find him ultrarunning in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Jesse studied Public Relations at Brigham Young University.