The subject of mental health has always been one that far too many people don't take seriously. It has a reputation for being taboo, yet holds the heaviest weight over each and every thing we do in our daily lives. It controls how we stay motivated, productive, and the way we treat those around us. Thankfully, more and more leaders are coming to recognize the importance of taking care of themselves and their people both mentally and physically. I know first hand how important this can be. We may have come leaps and bounds in the last decade in recognizing the importance of mental health, but even still, there are equally as many organizations and leaders that simply just turn the other cheek. And the consequences are becoming deadly…
Seeing the Facts
Last week The Washington Post released an article about Yale University, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and their reported stance on mental health and suicidal thoughts. Which to no surprise, student cases jumped due to the pandemic. As I read through each story, I was in awe of what these students shared and how school leaders got away with this behavior. They were devastating, and I felt that each of the students who shared their experiences were let down by this university. I could only begin to imagine how they each felt going through it in real time. Some suffered from trauma related stories, others from school performance pressure, many struggled with needing to go through the process of finding a medication that could help them survive their day to day, and ultimately, a few even took their lives.
“They make you feel like you’re the best of the best, like this bright and shiny thing,” she said. “But as soon as something’s wrong, they want nothing to do with you.”
According to the research presented, Yale made a statement that they have a serious commitment to providing resources to their students, but it's the students themselves that tell an entirely different story. If anyone in attendance of their school is suffering with anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts and make it known, become hospitalized for any of the above, or even attempt suicide, Yale will make a highly recommended and pushy request that they opt to take a medical withdrawal. In some cases, it was even forced. On top of that, the students would have to reapply to the school in order to be reinstated. So, imagine being denied the help you so desperately need or having to jump through a significant amount of hoops to get there - just to be told to leave your education behind, get yourself together, and when you're ready to come back, prove your health is worthy of it.
Check in Often
Thinking about how these are leaders of our children's education, the future of our families, our country, and who is leading them through to their future careers…it's difficult to stomach. If your people aren't well, they won't perform well. If they aren't provided with an opportunity to address their struggles, they will sweep them under the rug until it breaks them. Having an open door policy with your team is the #1 way to make them feel comfortable enough to come to you when things in their life are affecting their work. A death in the family, divorce, health issues - the causes are endless. Check in often by holding weekly or bi-weekly one on one meetings. You'd be surprised how much your team will share with you when you prove you genuinely care about their well being. Follow that up with a course of action to support them in the way that they need you. If you're ever unsure of what exactly that may entail, ask them what they need from you. Direct and transparent communication will go a long way.
There is no perfection when it comes to leadership but caring leadership is practiced by expressing empathy, compassion and genuine care. There is always room for growth and there is always a chance to make a mistake. But whether you're leading a team of three or you're the president of a university, that mistake should never be the cost of a human life. The well being of your people is what is going to drive your retention, productivity, and will become a direct reflection of the type of leader you choose to become. Will you choose to lead empathically or apathetically?