Leaders are you Listening?
When over 1,200 surveyed parents, mostly Moms (95%) were asked, what they need to improve wellbeing or productivity, the answer was often the same. Mental healthcare, either for themselves, their partners or children. It’s among the most requested needs, along with greater work flexibility and childcare.
Covid, a health crisis with a twist of recession, has leveled entire industries. And employers are scrambling to respond. Everyone craves clarity and focus in light of the new professional challenges. Which only increases pressure for working parents when burnout is high and resilience is low. What can compassionate leaders do?
Employers Can Jump into the Void
Mental health has always been tricky. We celebrate exercise, yet rarely champion the ongoing effort for emotional wellbeing. And before the pandemic, most employers were reactive about the whole topic.
Maybe it’s because so many factors effect mental health. But pre-Covid, 65% of US employees cited work as a significant source of stress. So, positive work conditions can boost happiness. And employers pay, in the form of lost productivity, turnover and higher insurance costs, when their people struggle.
Take a Trauma Sensitive Lens
Dr. Nicole C. Brathwaite, Psychiatrist, Activist and Entrepreneur, explains how leaders can rise to the occasion, “I strongly recommend that organizations take a more trauma sensitive lens to support their employees. For example, if an employee is late for work or meetings, rather than immediately reprimanding them, check in with them. Ask, how are things are going? Are there needs that you have that are not being met?” Kindness is always well received.
Nicole added, “So, it’s giving people the benefit of the doubt, rather than asking ‘what’s wrong with you’ or placing a negative label on someone, it’s thinking what’s happened to you? What’s going on in your life? Simply taking a more trauma sensitive approach completely changes the dynamics.”
Demonstrate Genuine Concern
People invest heavily in their jobs. And smart employers demonstrate reciprocity. Nicole said, “You can imagine, as an employee, the reaction if their employer says, ‘why don’t you come into these meetings?’ Versus, ‘hey you’ve been late for a few meetings and I’m worried about you. Just wanted to check in.’ Feeling that care and concern from an employer is very different.” This approach creates trust. Nicole added, “And your stress reaction is different when you feel like you’re working in an environment with people that actually care about you and don’t just see you as a commodity.” Exactly.
In an Equitable Way
A social justice reckoning within a global pandemic is no joke. Nicole said, “Recognize that people are experiencing trauma and that some employees have experienced more trauma than others, simply because of the color of their skin. With the racial dynamics happening, recognize that equity means those employees may need extra support.” Amen! Health benefits have never been equal. Why not personalize mental healthcare and other pandemic support?
She said, “If you want to become anti-racist or equitable, that means giving each individual what they need to be successful, not just giving everybody the same thing. Help support their strengths but also identify areas where they may have more need.”
Make a Profound Difference
Nicole said, “I work with a lot of organizations and schools about the steps necessary to become a more trauma informed environment. A teacher recently told me they had a kid who was disconnected and not paying attention. Her first reaction was to reprimand him in the middle of the Zoom class. She thought about the trauma informed approach we talked about and took a few steps back. After the class she learned he had just lost two family members to Covid.” Many people face invisible obstacles.
Nicole added, “So, now the school is aware and she recognizes that he needs more support, not to be judged or publicly embarrassed. And that relationship, his productivity and ability to connect in school have improved. The exact same thing happens in the work setting!” Absolutely.
Cultivate and Build Peer Networks
Employers can lean on the power of community to increase employee support. Nicole said, “Some of the schools that I work with have created support groups for teachers to vent and bounce ideas off of each other. They’re scheduled every other week and the teachers know that it’s their time.” Brilliant! Organizations can facilitate peer connections through Employee Resource Groups or on a more ad hoc basis.
Curate Support Options
Stressed out parents, may not be able to navigate the byzantine mental health system. Waiting out the wait lists or vetting dozens of providers during business hours are reasons people don’t get the help they need. But organizations suffer when their people do. And wise leaders are increasingly reducing the barriers to find a provider. Nicole said, “There are resources like Psychology Today that has a list of people with private practices. And Dr. Charmain Jackman created InnoPsych for people who are looking for mental health clinicians of color.”
Subsidize, Subsidize, Subsidize
Therapy is expensive. Nicole said, “Blue Cross and Blue Shield is starting to increase reimbursements. So, I’m hoping that with those increasing reimbursements, more Psychiatrists and Therapists will be willing to accept insurance, because that’s often the barrier.” Some employers are boosting coverage and eliminating or reducing co-pays. Surveyed parents also report some Employers are hiring therapists, group counselors and wellness coaches directly at no cost to employees.
And Digital Resources Can Help
An app does not equal the judgement or nimbleness of a therapist. But millions trust digital Sherpas to inspire behavior change. And some employers are paying for the subscriptions. Nicole said, “The Liberate meditation app, is an app for people of color with all of the mindfulness and meditation exercises moderated by people of color. And there are the Calm and Headspace apps. And there are even resources for kids like Cosmic Kids on YouTube.” Adding mindfulness and meditation supports can help through this time of grief and transition.
Yep, for Kids Too
There aren’t enough mental health providers for children and pre-Covid waiting lists could exceed six months. Even in the States with the most access, one third go without treatment. And 60% of depressed young people don’t receive treatment at all. Nicole said, “Parents are experiencing it for themselves and trying to support their children’s loneliness and isolation. Both are challenging because so many parents are trying to be creative on how to prevent them from being on a screen 24/7 and keep them engaged.” Exactly.
Employers already have a powerful impact on people’s lives and health. And in the US, where employees lack social safety nets and access to affordable childcare is limited, employers can become catalysts for healthier working life. Caregivers will need work to fit around life, not the other way around, for the foreseeable future. And the distributed workforce will outlast Covid. And organizations must embrace proactive mental health awareness and care as a foundational part of the work/life revolution.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD is a Board Certified Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She has significant clinical experience with adults, children, adolescents, transitional and college aged youth. After graduating from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she joined the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program and then completed fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Massachusetts General/Mclean Hospital. She is the Senior Vice President and Medical Director of Scheduled Services at InSight Telepsychiatry. She is also the Founder of Well Minds Psychiatry and the Co-Founder of SecureMeLink, a safety app to support the health and safety of clinicians and medical staff.
Nicole regularly provides radio interviews and speaks to the community about mental health and wellness, particularly in African American communities. Dr. Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Advisory Board for the Post Partum Depression Fund of Massachusetts. Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Board of Directors for Families for Depression Awareness and servers as Clinical Consultant to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Lesley University, William James College, Massachusetts School Administrators Association and numerous other public and private schools and universities.