We often think about mental health in a one-dimensional way. Most businesses encourage you to reach out to colleagues for mental health support. Many have employee assistance programmes. Some even have dedicated mental health first aiders and other measures in place to support and assist employees experiencing struggles.
But mental health isn’t as straightforward as this. Our diverse identities, backgrounds and experiences play a pivotal role in how we interact with our mental health, so it is increasingly important that this is reflected in any company’s mental health initiatives.
The cultural context of mental health
Take race, for instance. According to the Mental Health & Race toolkit, compiled by the City Mental Health Alliance, 58 per cent of black and minority ethnic employees have experienced actively non-inclusive behaviours in the workplace. Of those, 11 per cent ended up leaving their organisation.
The same toolkit highlighted that this experience may negatively impact the mental health of black and minority ethnic employees differently. This issue is also often compounded by stigma and a lack of knowledge around mental health in some communities.
This is just one example of why understanding positive mental health is culturally contextual, and any corporate mental health programme must actively recognise the needs of the cultures that make up its employee base.
Access to additional mental health services also varies between communities, sometimes dramatically. Paying for mental health assistance is a luxury that many can’t afford, and sadly it remains the case that many people from ethnic minorities are more likely to fall below the poverty line and so have to de-prioritise their mental health outside of the workplace.
The impact of gender
According to Professor Jo Brewis, co-author of the government report on menopause, women experiencing the menopause are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce in the UK. If that’s the case then why does “menopause” feel like such an inappropriate word to use in the workplace and so cannot be discussed, or have provisions made for it?
If someone’s sick, they take a sick day. But if someone is experiencing difficulties adjusting to perimenopausal or menopausal life, then that’s a hush-hush situation. The stigma still attached to this vital issue, including its impact on mental health, is stopping many women from being able to engage fully within our workplace.
Three out of four women experience menopausal symptoms. One out of four experience serious symptoms. Coupled with the fact that black women in particular go through a longer menopausal period on average then their white colleagues, have more hot flushes on average, and have a higher prevalence of symptoms, it’s clear that we can’t extrapolate the varied understandings of mental health, race and sex from each other.
So what do we do about it?
Bringing one’s full self to work is a vital part of a happier and more fulfilling work life, and this is only possible if we enshrine an intersectional approach to mental health into our corporations. So what can we do to proactively address these issues in the workplace?
I believe that the first thing is knowing that you don’t have to be an expert to show compassion for those going through issues relating to any of these subjects.
Talk about the issues. Make it known to your workforce, your direct reports, your friends, and family: you are an ally to black and minority ethnic communities, to those with mental health difficulties, and to women experiencing menopause. Encourage senior leaders to talk about it, to implement clear policies. Transparency around these issues is how we let those we care about know that it’s OK, and that you’re there to support them if needed.
Developing workplace flexibility is key too in this new hybrid world we live in. For example, are women experiencing the menopause able to take breaks or work from home when they need to? Do they have easy accessibility to water? Can they opt for a desk fan? By managers making sure employees know they can take a rest in a private area if they need, all contributes to an open, honest, and understanding atmosphere.
Finally, to tie it all together, you must consider the intersection where all these issues come together. With the proper support and understanding in the workplace, employers can reduce the risk that the menopause or mental health issues come between employees of any race, and their ability to excel in their role.
Paulette Rowe is CEO of integrated and ecommerce solutions at Paysafe