Mental Health in the Workplace

Written by Nate Ortiz. Originally published in Lynchburg Business Magazine 

In any given year, approximately one in 25 adults in the United States experiences a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities and one in 10 employees suffers from depression. This includes the ability to perform effectively or efficiently at work.Mental Illness can cause serious disruption in everyday life.

In my role, I am responsible for managing a large team of behavioral health care providers, as well as several administrative team members. Being surrounded by behavioral health care all day means my team is usually more knowledgeable about mental health, but being knowledgeable about mental health and actively prioritizing it in your life can be two different things. My team deals with the stress of the patients and administrators we work with day to day, and if we are not careful, that can weigh heavy on us and lead to burnout.

As a manager, I acknowledge the struggles that my team faces and make an effort to provide mental health and emotional support, in addition to leadership. Specifically, our providers spend all day listening and often do not always have the opportunity to be heard. They are also spread throughout the country, so we provide many opportunities for providers who are remote to interact with their peers and administrators, to help them not feel alone in this, along with the rest of the team.

While I certainly do not have this all perfectly figured out, I have learned some valuable lessons about making mental health a priority along the way:

One of my methods is to get the team together on a regular basis, so my assistance is consistent and the team can understand who we are collectively.

By getting together regularly, we are getting to the same mission: we celebrate wins for each other, share the next month’s big picture goals, as well as ways we can help one another to reach those goals. We have found that it is important to have a culture of celebration, of each other, along with small wins.

Creating a culture of collaboration is also very important and I have learned to put in an extra effort to create new ways to collaborate and work together with remote team members. I spend a great deal of my time reaching out to the remote team, to open up those communication and collaboration channels as much as possible, to make that the culture. My team also consistently communicates by video, which removes that distance.

I keep an open door policy both for my in person team members and remote colleagues. With these open door meetings, my goal is not only to be available to coach professionally, so each person can become the best employee, but to help each person become their best selves.

I also like to preach the importance of work/life balance, which is a part of my practice for mental wellness and self-care. Personally, I have to weigh opportunity costs and be ok with being less connected to work at times. I have had to make a clean break between work and home life, and it has benefited my well-being and my family. I am not the only person preaching work/life balance here at our Lynchburg office, but not everyone is naturally like that.

I do my best to lead others in discovering that balance, by learning to build appropriate boundaries, before potentially more things enter their lives, such as marriage and children. I describe work/life balance as having a quality of life, of looking at the whole thing. If there is not a balance, then your whole life is affected. Whether you are a younger or an older employee, work remotely or in-person, we are all dealing with the same issues at work.

You are also the same person whether you are or are not at work; you cannot just turn off who you are personally. If you are going through a tough time at work, you need to give yourself the grace to know you will not always be “on.”

What else can you do? Take that 10-minute walk. It is something small, but see it as an investment rather than a break. There is a tendency to think 10 minutes away from your desk is a break or slacking, but it is more of an investment of time to come back and do what needs to be done, for both yourself and others, because you will be less stressed and therefore more productive.

This applies to both administrative team members and the providers I supervise. If you’re not keeping yourself cared for, if you’re not well at work, not only do you suffer, but the people depending on you suffer as well.

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If you are in crisis, call 988 to talk with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, text HOME to 741741 to connect to a free crisis counselor, or go to your nearest emergency room.