Mental Health and How Nonprofits Can Fight the Stigma

May is Mental Health Month

May is Mental Health Month—and as social and economic pressures worsen, it’s critical for nonprofits to support their staff and volunteers.

Mental health is a rapidly-growing concern as two years of a pandemic, a rising cost of living, and political and social unrest worsen the risk of burnout and illness. Wellness is both a personal matter and an industry-wide one, as employees struggle with understaffed offices and even greater workloads.

How can nonprofit organizations better support those living with mental illness, and help staff and volunteers avoid burnout?

“Burnout” has become a critical issue across corporate and nonprofit spheres. Too much pressure on too few employees is stressful and draining, and over a prolonged period, can lead to poor mental health—and often burnout. Those who suffer from burnout may see a decline in performance, ongoing mental health issues, and even resignation.

Encourage a Positive Work-Life Balance

Burnout often comes from taking our work home with us, without enough time away from the office to rest and recuperate. Life is demanding enough, and adding increased workloads and regular overtime can result in employees feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Volunteers are just as susceptible to burnout. Volunteer work, on top of a regular job and family obligations, can add up quickly—leading to high pressure and little free time. Though nonprofits often rely heavily on volunteers, when they burn out, important tasks can fall through the cracks and create other complications down the line.

Give employees and volunteers time during the work day to rest. Even when there’s important work to be done, giving staff and volunteers heavy workloads without adequate breaks can’t last long. In addition to a lower quality of work produced, overworked employees may experience declines in mental health. Make sure to provide regular, restful breaks throughout the day. Consider hosting an office-wide stretching or meditation session to encourage relaxation.

Limit overtime and work-from-home. For those staff members who come into the office, limiting the amount of work that has to be done after office hours means that employees can go home without the weight of unfinished projects or looming deadlines.

If you find yourself overwhelmed and stressed outside of work, ask yourself whether you feel obligated to check email or answer work-related phone calls on your own time, and if it’s necessary to fulfill your employee role.

Can you enforce stricter boundaries between work and home? Establish clear rules with yourself for when and why you’ll engage with work at home, and open a dialogue with a supervisor or leadership about these boundaries.

Offer Mental Health Resources and Support

Giving employees access to counselors, and honoring when staff or volunteers simply need a mental health day, can create a culture of positive mental health awareness at your organization.

Reduce the stigma. It can be hard for anyone to bring up mental health at work, especially when they need help. But fostering an environment of openness and acceptance can give staff and volunteers a safe avenue to discuss their obstacles, find solutions to problems before they grow worse, and help maintain good mental health throughout your entire organization.

Provide access to resources and guidance. Even if providing a counselor isn’t in the mix, giving employees and volunteers contact information for obtaining one and support in finding help can make a world of difference. It shows that your leadership is aware and accepting of the mental hurdles we all face, and opens the door to positive and open discussion.

Offer accommodations and need-based support. Starting a dialogue between employees and leadership about mental health can encourage everyone in the office to better communicate their needs, and express when they are overworked or overstressed. When needs are met—such as disability accommodations, vacations, or leave of absences to avoid burning out—employees will perform better overall.

And of course, minimizing pressure and stress in the workplace is one of the most effective approaches to helping employees and volunteers maintain positive mental health. Happier people means better work, and fewer mistakes. It’s a win-win for everyone!

This Mental Health Month, make a commitment to reducing the stigma around mental health and mental illness, and establishing healthier boundaries around the role of work in everyday life.

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