Mental health in times of stress

As I’ve highlighted before in this series, it is no secret that we live in stressful times. Between the pandemic, political unrest, financial stress, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and countless other current events — times are difficult, to put it mildly. Unsurprisingly, this has led to increased rates of suicide and a ballooning mental health crisis in our community. People spend a large chunk of their time at work, and mental health concerns do not respect boundaries, which means we should recognize these societal shifts will impact businesses.

Is the business world on a burning platform? A burning platform references that no option is without risk, and bold change is necessary to prevent failure. Given the mental health crisis, nearly every business exists on a burning platform. Those that jump into the sea have a chance to survive, whereas those that stay on the platform perish. 

Let’s start by establishing what is happening during the current mental health crisis. In addition to increases in suicides and suicide attempts, there have also been dramatic increases in anxiety and depression. This is coupled with burnout, especially in the service and medical fields. We have also seen increases in substance use disorders and domestic violence primarily due to the pandemic. We will see many people facing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Maintaining the status quo (“staying on the burning platform”) will completely lose control and productivity, which will quickly lead organizations to collapse.

So how do we jump from the burning platform and flag down a lifeboat? First, we can start with maintaining a positive attitude and tending to how we consciously think about everything going on around us. Our thoughts are powerful. Allowing negative thoughts to dictate action will never bring good results. Shift your mind from “Why is everything happening TO my business?” to “Look at all of these things FOR my business.” Jedi mind trick yourself. It is amazing how something as small as a shift from happening TO me to happening FOR me can create positive outcomes.

Next, take a moment to look at the entire situation. 

  • Your people. Who are they? Their strengths? What do they bring if you look at them outside their current role? Who are they now versus two years ago? What are their needs?
  • Your processes. Anyone trying to hold on tight to the “old ways” of B.P. (before pandemic) times are going nowhere fast. Perhaps there are opportunities that you have been ignoring because change is hard and scary. Maybe that is telling you something.
  • Your product(s). Perhaps the product(s) and service(s) you offered are no longer needed in the same way they were. Ask yourself, what is needed now?

Now that we have looked at the whole situation, let’s next take some time to evaluate what we need to ensure survival. If you have employees coping with mental health concerns, that may mean that you need to rethink how you communicate and how you expect them to respond. It may be necessary to shift expectations and work styles to accommodate needs. 

Jumping from the burning platform requires bravery, but it also requires support. (Remember the lifeboat?) It is tough to be objective when it is your business and people are struggling. No one is asking you to be a therapist for yourself or your staff. At the same time, you may need an independent lens to identify roadblocks and misdirection. Reaching out for support to help find solutions to mental health issues or breakdown in team culture might be the smartest thing you can do for yourself and your business!   •

Dr. Jacob Christenson, PhD, MBA, LMFT is CEO and founder of Covenant Family Solutions.