In response to global protests for racial justice, employers around the world are emphasizing their commitment to inclusion and social equity. To deliver on this commitment, organizations must ensure employees from diverse backgrounds can access effective mental health support – a challenge that has been overlooked for too long.
Recent acts of racism and violence, and the health disparities of COVID-19, are taking a toll on mental health. One study finds that anxiety and depression symptoms have more than tripled in Black and Latino communities this year, spiking after the murder of George Floyd. The health disparities of Covid-19 are also responsible, as Black and Latino Americans are three times as likely to become infected with Covid-19 as white Americans, and nearly twice as likely to die from the virus. Beyond the United States, protests for racial justice are reaching around the world and prompting calls for action on a global scale.
Given the impact on employees and communities, every employer should see accessible, inclusive mental health as both an ethical imperative and a new strategic priority. Now is the time for action to address long-standing mental health care gaps and disparities.
As described in a statement by Dan Gillison, the CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): “The effect of racism and racial trauma on mental health is real and cannot be ignored. The disparity in access to mental health care in communities of color cannot be ignored. The inequality and lack of cultural competency in mental health treatment cannot be ignored.”
As employers strive to advance racial justice, they must focus on mental health in both their workplaces and their communities. There are several important actions they can take:
Focus on the intersection of mental health and inclusion
Mental health and diversity and inclusion (D&I) are closely connected. Employees from diverse backgrounds can face lack of representation, microaggressions, unconscious bias, and other stressors that impact their mental health and psychological safety at work.
As a result, initiatives that support diversity, inclusion, and belonging can also support mental health – and vice versa. As employers deepen their focus on D&I and racial justice, they should ensure employees from diverse backgrounds have the mental health support they need, from employee resource groups to counseling services to mental health screening tools. This can be an essential element of effective D&I strategy and investment.
Educate and empower managers
Managers can be the “first responders” to address mental health in a time of crisis. Training, educating, and empowering managers to lead on both mental health and inclusion – and how the two intersect – can speed needed support to employees from diverse backgrounds. Managers may be in the best position to handle these sensitive issues with individual employees, helping to answer questions, address concerns, and direct people to the best available resources.
Improve access to culturally competent care
There are striking disparities in access to mental health care in the U.S.: Asians are 51% less likely to use mental health services than whites, Latinos are 25% less likely, and Blacks are 21% less likely. A range of factors contribute to these gaps, including stigma, discrimination, lack of coverage, and a shortage of providers, especially those from diverse backgrounds. For example, Black, Latino, and Asian psychologists – combined – account for less than 20% of the total number of psychologists in the U.S.
Employers can bolster access to inclusive, effective mental health services for all employees. Organizations should leverage their influence to push for health systems, insurance networks, and policy decisions that deliver culturally competent mental health care. Employers can also help to develop, pilot, and scale digital health tools that address disparities in access, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates a shift towards telehealth services.
Originally posted on Forbes