Every year since 1914, on the second Sunday in May, millions of young kids and adult children wish their Mom a Happy Mother's Day. Unfortunately, too many of our Mothers are not as happy as they could be because a large number of their sons and daughters are struggling with anxiety, depression and unhealthy stress.
Since May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, I decided to dedicate this article to promoting the importance of mental health. The number of people you and I know who are suffering in silence or feeling seriously sad for long periods of time keeps increasing every year.
I hope this information creates a sense of urgency for you to learn more about the crisis and the cure. Mental illness used to be a topic that applied to "other people." Now it affects every family and workplace. It's time for leaders at all levels to get better at helping people thrive, not just survive, in their personal and professional life.
I've known many individuals over the years that have suffered from a mental illness that affected their thoughts, feelings and behavior. While I always treated those people with compassion, I must admit I never really understood the problem, showed enough empathy for their suffering or knew what I should do to help.
I started to educate myself on this subject late last year when I was working with attorneys and discovered The American Bar Association report on Lawyer Well-being. Their research revealed too many lawyers and law students were experiencing chronic stress, high rates of depression and substance use. David Brink, Past President of the ABA, said... "Lawyers, judges and law students are faced with an increasingly competitive and stressful profession. Studies show that substance use, addiction and mental disorders, including depression and thoughts of suicide-often unrecognized-are at shockingly high rates."
I applaud The American Bar Association for launching their campaign targeting substance abuse and mental health issues, and I have a great respect for the 110 Law Firms and Law Schools who have signed the ABA pledge to improve Lawyer Well-being in 2019. I'm looking forward to hearing about their results at the end of the year.
However, the crisis is not limited to the legal industry. Take a moment and reflect on these statistics from The National Alliance on Mental Health, The National Institute on Mental Health, The American Psychological Association Report on Stress in America, and the Center for Workplace Mental Health.
Depression affects more than 16 million Americans and is the leading cause of disability worldwide, costing the U.S. economy $210.5 billion per year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and medical costs.
While the causes and cures of the mental health emergency in America are complicated and require the expertise of many mental health professionals, I believe all leaders have a responsibility and obligation to get better at helping those around them who need encouragement and support. It's not just a job for senior leaders or HR. No one needs a budget or permission from their boss to care.
If you feel the same way, I encourage you to join me and make a commitment to take these positive actions:
1. Start developing relationships with experts in the Mental Health field. Get the number of your organization's Employee Assistance Program, call any of the non-profit associations I listed above, or reach out to someone at your church. Ask these professionals what you should and shouldn't do if you think a co-worker, family member or friend is having a problem.
Most leaders and parents are not trained on what to do when someone is suffering emotionally. Adding some mental health experts to your list of trusted advisors will help you be more effective when a person you care about is in pain.
2. Don't wait till it's too late. Raise your awareness regarding the early warning signs and intervene as soon as you suspect someone is having a problem.
Early intervention can help you influence your co-worker, family member or friend to get professional help sooner, reduce the severity of the problem or even prevent the mental illness from happening.
Here Are 10 Potential Warning Signs:
Feeling sad or unhappy for long periods of time
Being very sensitive or angry
Having frequent mood changes
Spending more time alone or engaging in risky behavior
Being apathetic or speaking negatively about life
Missing deadlines and being unproductive
Using alcohol or drugs more often
Complaining about people and problems
Being afraid or worried about the future
Ending relationships with good friends
Just because someone you know is experiencing one or more of these early warning signs doesn't mean they have a mental illness; but if these symptoms continue, they could be going down a very painful path.
Mental Health American has an initiative called Be 4 Stage 4. They say when you think of cancer, heart problems or diabetes, you don't wait years to treat the disease. You start before Stage 4--you begin with prevention or at the first sign something is wrong. You should do the same and intervene as early as possible if you sense someone you care about is starting to deal with a mental disorder.
Please don't hesitate to help because you're not sure how to start the conversation. There is no recipe to follow. Every situation is unique. The only way you're going to get better at helping someone who needs your encouragement and support is to acknowledge your fear and start the conversation anyway. Soon you and the other person will get comfortable being uncomfortable talking about this topic.
3. The third and the most important action is to develop the skill and courage to lead the people around you like a good mom.
This idea is not meant to criticize the traditional male leadership style. Most successful organizations in the past have had a handful of hardworking, smart senior MANagers sitting on top of the Org Chart, confidently telling others what to do and how to do it.
Today, I believe leaders of all ages, races and genders know the leadership styles that worked in the past are a formula for failure in the future. Our workplaces and homes are filled with people who want and need more leaders like a Mom when she's at her best.
Take a few minutes now to make a list of the most important things you learned from your mom or a mother figure in your life. What did she do for you that you could start doing for others this month?
How did she help you heal when you were hurting? How did she let you know you were unconditionally loved while encouraging you to get up when you were down? How did she make you feel safe, secure and supported when you were afraid? What did she do to comfort you and give you hope that your future was going to be better? How did she bring out the best in you?
You and I can't help everyone who's suffering from mental illness; but if we can educate ourselves on the disease, intervene early when we see some warning signs and learn to spend more time leading like a good mom, we just might save someone's life and make a mother much happier next Mother's Day.