If mental health were a brand, we would immediately recognize that it’s a brand in crisis.
A brand that must urge every one of its stakeholders—companies like all of ours—to move beyond promises and platitudes to substantive action.
A brand that desperately needs more advocates, influencers and partners—as well as people with no followers or mega-platforms at all—to speak for it and about it. To make talking about mental health routine. To make listening—really listening—and empathy core to every human interaction.
But mental health is not a brand. The World Health Organization defines it as "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."
We can likely agree that the “normal stresses of life” are no longer because “normal” is no longer. And for many, “coping” with loss, isolation and the trauma of a news feed rife with horror and atrocity is not a possibility.
Our collective state of well-being is in peril. People we love and care about are hurting. Lives are at stake.
So, how do we make a real difference, particularly ahead of World Mental Health Day October 10?
Mental health must be addressed with the rigor, tenacity and genius our industry regularly summons for monumental briefs.
First, mental health needs our best ideas
It needs the exponential power of our influence with the major businesses, organizations and institutions in the world. It needs our commitment to do what we do best: make change.
Not changing is not an option. There are currently 615 million people worldwide living with a mental health condition, including 65 million in the U.S. And currently, 60% of them don’t receive any mental healthcare.
Furthermore, according to the NIH, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people in the U.S. aged 10 and 34. The CDC recently reported that one in four young adults ages 18-to-24 years-old say that they have considered suicide in the past month, due to the pandemic.
So, what, specifically, can we do? Two simple words are key to beginning the process of change. Talk. And ask.
We must tell people–employees, clients, partners and friends–that it is okay and important to talk about how they are feeling.
Recent research from Project Healthy Minds (PHM), a mental health nonprofit that works to provide pathways to mental healthcare and reduce stigma, shows over half of young employees (ages 18-34) don’t currently feel comfortable talking openly about mental health at work. Young women and LGBTQ+ employees are disproportionately impacted.
But talk may equal change. More than two-thirds of young people say that hearing friends, family members and co-workers talk about mental health inspires them to improve their own well-being.
Experts agree that an organization that fosters open talk also provides the best possible environment to help leaders and managers help those who need it. Organizations train managers on every possible competency, but within too many companies, we’ve failed to make empathy the core foundational competency for every manager and potential manager. And most firms have yet to help managers understand how to support colleagues who are struggling. We can change that.
Let’s ensure that every one of our offices—virtual or otherwise—runs on compassion and empathy. Let’s diligently manage workloads and have zero tolerance for toxicity.
Let's, above all, encourage talk. And let’s ask
We have to ask ourselves first. Are we doing everything we can? Managers need to ask everyone on their team how they are. And they need to listen to the response.
And most importantly, everyone in every workplace and space needs to feel safe and secure in asking for help when they need it. We need to build and actively model a culture (both for ourselves and for our clients) where asking never has negative repercussions. A culture where asking is honored and rewarded.
Talking and asking are simple in concept and a tough evolution in practice. But this isn’t just a tough brief. It is one of the greatest human challenges of this century.
Our message to you: Use your role to be a model. Help subvert old ways of thinking. Guide others in your world to act differently and bravely.
Talk. And ask. And, above all, act. With compassion.
Weber Shandwick is a partner of Project Healthy Minds, a nonprofit on a mission to change mental health for good.