Over the past year, we wrestled with some of the harder unknowns in what was a time like any other. The stress of the news cycle compounded with the stress of adapting to new ways of working – and to-do lists remaining the same as we wrestled through a global pandemic – has led to shifts in how we approach talking about mental health.
With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, the looming threat to our physical health over the past year is lessening a bit, but there is no vaccine for the stress and impact on our mental health. As we approach a new post-COVID era, taking time to spotlight mental health will remain more important than ever.
May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, this year’s theme, “You Are Not Alone,” delivers a message of support and unity following a year of isolation. The issue of mental health affects us all and to honor this year’s theme, we’re spotlighting a few ways that the tech industry can help shape positive and proactive changes in their approaches to mental health and wellness that provide support at the individual and communal level.
Awareness and Education
This is only the first step, but a critical one in changing the conversation around mental health. 1 in 5 individuals live with a mental health condition, but 5 in 5 people have mental health – making eliminating the stigma around mental health in an intentional deeply important.
This is an area where the tech industry can – and should – be taking the lead. There are ample opportunities for companies and employers to make significant changes. Mental health disorders disproportionately affect Black Americans and communities of color – who have also reported difficulties in seeking treatment. These accessibility issues cover a wide variety of areas from a shortage of behavioral health specialists, challenges with finding therapists of color, and resources to pay for therapy – especially for counselors and therapists who are out-of-network.
Companies at every stage and size must actively seek to understand the role institutional racism plays and that access to, and encouragement to seek, mental health treatment should be readily available, should not place the burden entirely on employees, and should never be used as a band-aid for employee concerns.
To put it simply, making it easier for employees to access mental health services can make a great deal of impact. While several companies began to offer mental health and wellness benefits to employees in recent years, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in these offerings as part of employee benefit packages. For example, SoFi is offering employees and their family members up to six therapy sessions, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration oversees several grant programs for small businesses to apply for funding in these areas.
People-First Mental Health-Focused Products and Solutions
As we recently talked about, COVID-19 further exposed health, education, and technology access disparities in communities nationwide. We are just learning the effects that the pandemic had on worsening the already stark existing wealth gaps. In the next year, it is especially likely that there will be continued market interest in products and applications that help address societal issues – especially in the realm of mental health.
Many founders have already looked within their communities as a strategy to shape their business during unprecedented times. The opportunity to make a major difference here lies at the industry level – seeking out diverse product developers and founders of color who are working on directly helping their communities and giving them a platform, funding them, and amplifying them can have a direct impact on individuals at the community level when it comes to alleviating hunger, access to mental health treatment, and addressing overall health disparities.
Continuing the Conversation
Talking more about mental health, the factors that positively and negatively impact it, and how we in the tech industry can help prioritize it throughout our work are all important parts of expanding and furthering the conversation around mental health. This is especially true as we enter a post-COVID world and a return to office-centric culture. In some cases, this might mean talking about how to best structure time off – for example, if you encourage your employees to use their “sick leave” for doctor’s appointments and encourage a culture of true self-care and wellness, this is an opportunity to rethink how labeling that time might affect how some employees use it.
Additionally, it is now easier than ever for companies incorporate creative, user-friendly and evidence-based resources to support their employees with limited costs to them through outreach programs and plans designed with an employee benefit model in mind that match individuals with behavioral health specialists.
More than anything else, this is not just a week or month-long conversation – true impact and change happen from continuous effort – and from removing the burden of advocating for change from individuals and employees once and for all.
After all, if our goal is to return to a focus on the customer and meeting their needs, it’s only natural we start with ourselves and our workforce.
Founders, what are some of the ways you are having the conversation around people-centered products and mental health?