(Written by Emily Merritt, Director of Intergenerational Initiatives for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities)

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! This is an important time for businesses and organizations, as one in five Americans will be affected by a mental health condition during their lifetime, and nearly every American is impacted by mental health challenges faced by friends and/or family. As managers, let’s ask ourselves:

  • Do our actions and words reflect openness and a desire to break down stigmas related to mental health conditions?
  • How do we support employees potentially facing—or those already living with—a mental illness?
  • How do we regularly promote a healthy work environment and healthy habits?

We can help break down the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental health conditions by having a strong awareness of mental health and encouraging employees to seek early intervention and open dialogue with health care professionals. As managers, we are well positioned to directly support our employees in managing their mental health. If you observe an employee talking about loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious or hearing voices, you should act.

In these cases, you’ll want employees to be aware of the variety of free screening tools online. By encouraging individuals to act early, further life disruptions can be avoided. Studies show it is not uncommon for 10 years to pass from the time symptoms are first experienced to the time people are diagnosed, a delay which can create challenges for effective symptom management.

There are a variety of resources available to employees including clinical services, medications, peer supports, counseling, family supports and other therapies. You can sometimes find these resources in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP); FEI Behavioral Health’s EAP in particular provides management consultation, trainings, critical incident response, 24/7 availability and other assistive services offering the most support to employees.

Beyond supporting individual employees, we can build and encourage a healthy work environment. Mental Health America has created this survey to help us reflect on opportunities to promote a nurturing workplace. Additionally, there are lots of ways we can encourage employees to boost their own mental health. Think about having your team generate their own list of ideas and post them in a public place at work.

Incidentally, May is also Older Americans Month. It’s a great time for us to recognize and acknowledge the contributions of older people in our lives and communities. We can reflect on those in our organizations who have been leaders, trailblazers or quiet pioneers who have made a difference.

While we might not naturally link Mental Health Awareness Month and Older Americans Month, these causes are closely aligned: those with mental health conditions, as well as older adults, want inclusion and wellness in their lives. We should remember that when everyone in an organization is valued, cared about, treated as a unique individual and given access to the resources they need, we all succeed.

During May, please take a moment to reflect: what could you do to better ensure employee inclusion and wellness prevail in your workplace?

*This is part of a series promoting May 2016 as Mental Health Awareness Month. You can now read all of FEI’s entries.