Masawa

Mental wellness in the workplace is going mainstream, it needs to go further

Masawa was launched in December 2019, in a world where mental health was already a global issue, but mental wellness was an awkward topic, one generally tip-toed around or avoided altogether, especially in the workplace.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and since its onset, we’ve seen the wave of increasing awareness swell about the importance of facing the issues of our ill mental health. Articles, studies, and conversations in the public sphere have grown in numbers, with the likes of McKinsey and Deloitte releasing reports in the last few months. Strikingly, Gen Z and millennials are struggling: 48% of Gen Zs and 44% of millennials reported feeling anxious or stressed all or most of the time.

A week ago, at its annual gathering (this year virtually), the World Economic Forum – which had declared already in 2019 its commitment to prioritize mental health – spotlighted the topic and held several critical conversations on it. The discussions touched upon the reasons behind elevated stress and anxiety, the cost to employers and society of leaving these problems unaddressed, and the opportunity for meaningful change in the workplaces on a global scale.

As the WEF itself notes, the momentum the topic of mental wellness has gained in the last year makes us hopeful that we can finally make real progress in fundamentally shifting how mentally well we are as individuals and societies. We echo their call to make sure efforts don’t stop here and offer a few additional observations and suggestions on how to keep the momentum going:

1. Mental health is a complex problem, not restricted to the workplace.

The workplace is uniquely positioned to be a leader in tackling mental health issues head-on, given that work-related conditions are among the top causes of increased stress and anxiety. It is heartening to see many employers beginning to act on the need for mental health support in the workplace: Deloitte, Unilever, Salesforce, HSBC, BHP, and other companies have signed a newly launched pledge, committing to prioritizing mental health and creating an open culture aimed at eliminating stigma in their organizations; reimbursable services like access to teletherapy are on the rise; mental health education programs in the workplace are being initiated. That sends a strong message that a change on a broad scale is needed, and it’s coming. However, work isn’t the only cause for stress and anxiety – GenZ and Millennials reported that problems like climate change ranked at the top of a list of causes. This points to the larger truth: mental wellbeing is linked more broadly to our very existence. Until we make meaningful progress in the fight against climate change, social justice, and economic inequity (to name a few), we can’t hope to make meaningful progress towards a more mentally healthy society. In the long run, this is not merely a healthcare problem to solve, but rather what is called for is a shift in thinking, behaving, existing on our planet with each other. The workplace can be a pioneer in tackling this, prioritizing what is important, and giving us the space – at work, where we spend most of our waking time – to start taking care of ourselves. But mental wellness in the workplace alone won’t solve this crisis.

2. Personal experience is the great normalizer; let it be the great connector and innovator.

While many might have suffered from mental health challenges before the Covid-19 pandemic, this last year has dramatically and rapidly increased the number of individuals experiencing mental ill-health personally as well as the severity of mental illness writ large. As millions go through a similar embodied experience, a newfound shared understanding has opened: publicly acknowledging mental health struggles has allowed us to be more vulnerable, open, empathetic, and humane. Despite our isolation, we are interconnected by this global occurrence like never before. This connection and sharing of our struggles is an important first step, but we shouldn’t become complacent in accepting that it is now an acceptable status quo just because everyone is feeling this. Quite the contrary – we should let the fact that it is something that so many of us now grapple with more openly, fuel the innovation, research, and funding necessary to exponentially expand access to conventional and (as of yet) more unconventional solutions in the mental wellness space (and beyond! See point 1 above).

3. Invest in cures AND preventative measures.

The WEF made this point, but it bears repeating: while it is essential we diversify what treatment practices are available for mental health conditions, working only on cures won’t solve this problem. Instead, we must also chisel away at the causes. Collectively we seem to finally be taking the first step in acknowledging that we face a fundamental and systemic problem of mental health. Achieving mental wellness is not a quick-fix process, where we can check the box once we get there. It is a practice and a continuum that means something different for every individual and, as such, requires a holistic and systemic approach. Let’s not shy away from taking the next step in getting to work, building a radically more healthy future from the outset, that is inclusive to everyone’s innate needs. 

Masawa is doing its part by 1) driving the conversation forward of creating mentally healthy workplaces, focused on founder resilience, 2) investing in innovations that help re-envision what a future full of mental wellbeing could look like, and 3) deploying capital to re-power balance in the current system.

What steps are you taking to shape the future of mental health?

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