Educate Members and Industry Employers About Mental Health Issues

A former association president describes mental health as an issue that “has been hiding in plain sight.” But mental health is in the headlines now whether the story is about the pandemic, social media, or the rise in suicides and drug overdoses. One timely article said over 10 million Americans will struggle with seasonal depression between now and early spring.

Look for proof of mental health’s newsworthiness and you’ll easily find it. For example, from 2019 to 2022, telehealth visits for mental health increased by more than 1000%. Overall, the use of mental health services is nearly 40% higher than before the pandemic. 

Why should mental health matter to associations?

Association professionals and volunteer leaders are more aware of mental health issues than we were during the last bout of economic hard times. During the 2008 housing crisis, members and staff of a few local home builder associations (HBAs) were shocked by the suicides of members who lost businesses that had been in their families for generations. Upon learning of these tragedies, many HBAs put mental health on their agenda. One brought in the chaplain of the local high-ranking college football team to spend time with members at their meetings. 

Although many associations offer mental health programs and resources, I fear many don’t because “it’s not such a big deal in our industry or profession.” Or “it’s not something our board wants us to spend time on.” I truly hope you and your board never find yourself in the place those HBA boards did back then. The regret and sadness were palpable. 

It’s the right thing to do. Period. Without good mental health, people don’t have the resilience required to face challenges at work or home. They can only realize their full professional and personal potential with good mental health. Because associations exist to help members prosper in their careers and businesses, you must educate yourselves, members, and industry employers about mental health issues.

Why and how mental health has become a critical issue

Many factors have led to the rise in mental health issues, including:

•    The decline of ‘third places’ for human connection, such as religious and civic organizations and clubs, as predicted in the book Bowling Alone

•    People moving away from family and ‘village’—and not finding a replacement community

•    Our individualistic society with fewer community values, events, and organizations to bond us 

•    Financial stress, such as housing costs far exceeding the 30% income guideline

•    Remote work isolation

•    Social media, especially for younger generations

Author Dror Poleg said we’re also experiencing a crisis of work. “Too many people, including senior executives, have no idea what they’re doing and for what purpose. Covid forced us to answer a few simple questions, and we’ve been scrambling for answers ever since.” 

The proof is in the numbers. According to Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, nearly half of the participants feel stressed or anxious all or most of the time. Another survey found that 59% of American workers are experiencing some level of burnout.

When people are dealing with stress, anxiety, burnout, or other mental health issues, they’re not in the right mindset to be an active member of your association.

The transformative benefits of membership

With “a world hyper-fixated on efficiency,” a psychologist said, there’s a “yearning for something deeper in our lives, a greater sense of purpose and meaning.” That’s where your association comes in.

Association membership helps people find purpose. Truly. Members can indulge in these healthy—and perhaps life-changing—activities:

•    Connect with peers and mentors—or mentor someone else
•    Develop relationships and find a place to belong
•    Acquire new skills or knowledge—and discover the pleasure of lifelong learning
•    Volunteer their time and talent—and feel like they made a difference 

stressed woman at work at the cusp of a mental health crisis

Advise industry employers to step it up

You can’t raise awareness alone. You can’t be the only organization in your industry that cares about mental health. Industry employers need to step it up, especially if they want to attract and hold on to talented employees.

The good news is, since 2020, the share of U.S. job postings advertising mental health and wellbeing benefits has tripled. But too many employers are guilty of wellbeing washing—too much talk and too little action.

For example, they offer employee assistance programs but don’t promote them to employees—perhaps hoping they don’t actually use costly benefits. Workplace cultures or bad bosses discourage people from taking needed time off. 

Make mental health part of leadership and industry conversations. Create industry campaigns that promote mental health awareness and resources
Collaborate with industry employers on mental health education programs for customer-facing employees—the positions most at risk for mental strain at work. When you help employers solve their problems, you become an indispensable asset. 

Mental health education programs offered by associations

Hopefully, you’ll find inspiration in these association examples.

Appoint a mental health task force

Looking for something for past presidents to do? Here’s a brilliant idea from the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP): a task force of past presidents charged with brainstorming ideas on how SSP can and should support the mental health of its members, with work-related issues being the primary but not the only focus. 

For the past month, on Mental Health Awareness Mondays, SSP has published a blog post about mental health. In one of them, the past presidents share their personal stories and thoughts on why the issue is so critical. 

Offer and highlight mental health membership benefits 

Provide both videos and one-pagers that explain how members can take advantage of the mental health benefits your association offers. Remove any uncertainty about how programs work and how to get started. 

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) partners with Cope Notes, an app that helps to prevent depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues by encouraging healthy habits and providing access to wellness resources. The app delivers exercise suggestions, journaling prompts, and psychology facts to participants’ phones at random times each day.

ICMA members can also receive unlimited individual coaching with ICMA CoachConnect. Coaches are not therapists, but they can help someone find their purpose. 

Provide mental health resources to members

Regularly publish information about mental health issues in your blog and newsletters. Share tools and techniques for coping with stress on the job.

The American Pharmacists Association offers a Well-Being Index for Pharmacy Personnel, which was developed by Mayo Clinic. This free online tool evaluates a person’s fatigue, depression, burnout, anxiety, and stress, and guides them to tailored resources. 

Taking on a new campaign like this can be overwhelming, so start with one target audience, for example, students. The American Bar Association published an article with tips on making the leap from law student to practicing lawyer while preserving mental health. You could share the same information in a series of videos, webinar, or early professional panel discussion. 

Keep mental health top of mind by hammering in the message via newsletters and educational programs. Another former SSP president shared a message that deserves a wide audience. 

Your association is, he said, “a place in which members can be their authentic selves, including being as open as they wish to about the struggles they’re facing in their work.” Remind members to “watch out for each other and look for signs of struggle, offering encouragement, support, and solidarity as needed.”

Help employers support their staff’s mental health

Remind employers about their role. Associated Builders and Contractors provides personal and company mental health toolkits and assessments. Their message to employers: “Construction workers use tools every day, and we must give them the tools they need to address mental health and suicide prevention. Their mental health must be prioritized as much as their physical safety.”

You know what exacerbates mental health issues in the workplace? A bad boss. Whether they’re clueless, egotistical, uncaring, or just not skilled enough for the job, bad bosses have two options: get the management training they need or get fired. With more people working from home, supervisors need to learn how to manage remote and hybrid teams. All supervisors must know how to recognize and prevent conditions that cause stress, burnout, and anxiety. 

Associations to the rescue! Gather an employer advisory council (or SMEs) to help you design education programs that address all these issues. Host panel discussions in which employers share what they’re doing on the wellbeing and mental health front.

For example, the Brewers Association is hosting a program, Known Hazards for People Leaders, that covers loneliness, compassion fatigue, burnout, and how to create a culture of mental safety. 

The International Association of Exhibitions and Events’ conference includes a session, How Loneliness, Mental Health, and Management of Burnout Can Impact Employee Retention. A recent blog post featured an interview with the speaker.

One of SSP’s former presidents describes their association as “a place we look to for innovation in times of change and comfort in times of turmoil”—a fitting mission for your association’s mental health initiatives.

membership benefits
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