Mental health conditions silently impact one in five adults nationally. Globally, they cost $2.5 trillion – almost twice the cost of cardiovascular diseases AND diabetes. They’ve been associated with 62 percent of missed work days and 57 percent reported a lack of focus at work (Mental Health at Work, National Business Group on Health, 2019).
One of the biggest challenges facing healthcare workers is the associated stigma around mental health. Fear of appearing weak or office repercussions often prevent workers from addressing mental health issues. The perceived mental health stigma can also spill over into patient care. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) addressed the mental illness-related stigma in healthcare and noted a Canadian Psychiatric Association survey found that “79 percent reported first-hand experiences of discrimination towards a patient and 53% observed other medical providers, discriminating against a patient from psychiatry.”
Suffering in silence isn’t a solution. We must change our perception of mental health. Large organizations like the Houston Texans (NFL), Prudential Financial, and Certified Angus Beef are taking an active stance, addressing employee needs and working toward removing the stigma. Healthcare providers must also take an active role in their health. You can’t properly care for your patients, if you aren’t fully present or healthy.
The most prevalent mental health issues among working adults are anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Healthcare system administrators, managers, and shift leaders can support workers, improve productivity, and advance patient care by offering mental health solutions, including:
- Create a culture of mental health – Continue to focus on better mental health at events and company-wide communications. If possible, offer mental health days as part of, or in addition to, standard PTO.
- Host workshops – Offer workshops to reduce stress and prevent depression during work hours, at different times so anyone interested can attend. Sessions could include stress management tips, simple breathing exercises, physical activities (yoga or walking), or group activities like healthy recipe cooking classes. Mix solitary exercises with group workshops. For employees that may need a little more, offer free or discounted mental health programs. Since 2014, private and government-run insurance plans are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services.
- Make mental health self-assessment tools available to all employees – Ask your mental health providers to share online sources in addition to in-person assessments. Promote resources like the CDC’s Mental Health page. Or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) helpline: (800) 662-HELP (4357). It’s a confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish).Provide managers with training – Lunch and learn opportunities, web resources, and a dedicated email for questions are just some of the ways you can reach out to your managers to support them in managing mental health. Topics should include recognizing symptoms, research updates, clinical trial opportunities, and an updated internal/external resources for employees. HR representatives could also provide a high-level overview of what your insurance covers.
Mental health solutions for healthcare providers
You must take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Your patients and your family need the best you can offer when you are with them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some suggestions include:
- Be selfish – It’s okay to say no, hide away for a bit, or indulge in a special purchase/event. It’s not selfish, it’s self-care.
- Drink sensibly – As a medical profession, you know better than anyone the dangers of alcohol and too much caffeine. Be mindful and track consumption.
- Eat balanced and timely meals – Skipping meals and eating junk food can lead to aggravating physical and mental symptoms.
- Engage your senses – Stimulate your senses to alleviate stress and change your perspective. Always keep a cherished photo in reach. Breathe fresh air or try an essential oil. Pet a cat/dog or snuggle in a comfy blanket. Eat a ripe piece of fruit, enjoy a cup of coffee/tea, or eat a small square of dark chocolate. Hum your favorite tune or great each morning to the sound of wind chimes.
- Get physical – Endorphins are magic. It doesn’t matter if you have 15 minutes or 2 hours, do something to get your heart rate up.
- Reach out to friends and family – You may not want to talk about your feelings, but just being around loved ones can help ease alienation and refocus your energies.
Together, we can make those living with this silent epidemic heard, helping not just the person, but the thousands they will heal. Remember the words of our Western medicine father, Hippocrates, “It is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.”
If you are a physician looking for a career in mental health, contact one of our recruiters below.