Effectively Communicating About Mental Health is Key to Supporting Your BIPOC Employees.
This month is Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month — an observance created to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face with mental illness. Though BIPOC Mental Health Month is coming to an end, the mental health challenges of BIPOC individuals are ongoing. Amid the pandemic, as long-standing health inequities were further exacerbated and a nationwide reckoning on structural racism occurred, mental health issues have increased, particularly for communities of color. According to a recent CDC report, over the past year and a half, BIPOC individuals have experienced worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation. As this year’s BIPOC Mental Health Month closes, it’s more important than ever to elevate mental health communication internally to your workforce, with a focus on empathy and support. Key to understanding the specific focus on BIPOC employees’ mental well-being is first understanding the unique, intersecting challenges that may be impacting these individuals’ mental health, including access to mental health care itself. BIPOC individuals are less likely to receive mental health care and, subsequently, they often suffer worse outcomes. Multiple factors are responsible for this limited access to high-quality mental health services, including underinsurance, a lack of culturally competent and diverse mental health care providers, distrust in the health care system, cultural stigma around mental health care (which is often greater among underrepresented populations), racial discrimination, and an overall lack of education about mental health. Addressing all these barriers is difficult to tackle all at once. However, there are steps your company can take to mitigate these challenges for BIPOC employees: Have your company’s benefits exemplify mental health as a priority, and communicate them clearly. Whether you are offering generous health insurance plans that include high-quality mental health services or wellness perks like access to fitness classes, it’s important that people know what mental health resources they can utilize. These offerings should be well-known and easily communicated to your current and potential employees, and your HR department and line managers should be knowledgeable about these benefits and prepared to answer any and all questions that may arise. Additionally, providing paid leave, such as PTO and sick days, is an essential way to give employees the ability to prioritize their mental health if needed. Allowing employees to take time for themselves, without having to justify why they’re taking a day off, is crucial to signal that your company understands the importance of mental health care. Empower employees to seek help when needed, so all employees, especially BIPOC ones, feel comfortable giving their wellbeing precedence. If you are a company leader, you can start discussions on the topic by hosting in-person or virtual town hall meetings while sharing tips on how to put self-care into practice. Asking for help, especially when your mental health is impacting your work, is never easy. But by facilitating an environment where employees feel safe discussing their mental health needs, you can allow them to admit when they may need extra time or space to deal with mental health concerns — without having to explain what they are going through any more than they feel comfortable. While communicating about mental health across your company is a solid foundation for ensuring that all your employees feel supported, you should keep in mind that the experiences of BIPOC employees are different than those of their white colleagues — and vary from person to person. From microaggressions to social unrest to the burden of being in the minority at any given time, there are unique, multi-dimensional factors influencing the mental health of BIPOC individuals every day. Because of this, it’s important to have the proper language and resources to support the mental health of underrepresented groups and prevent you from applying one person’s experience to another’s. Here at Clyde Group, for example, we offer regular, mandatory diversity training to teach both managers and employees on how to talk to and check in on individuals facing unique personal struggles in a way that exudes empathy. These trainings, which can be hosted by external organizations, are particularly relevant for supporting BIPOC employees — who may need more support right now — without condescending and assuming that you “know exactly how they feel.” You don’t. And it’s worthwhile to keep that in mind when dealing with these sensitive issues around mental health. Though we have a long way to go toward addressing all of the systemic issues that lead to worse mental health outcomes for BIPOC individuals, fostering communication around mental health within your company is one way you can do your part to contribute to a culture of inclusivity and ensure that the well-being of your BIPOC employees is a priority.