6 Tips to Starting a Mental Health Movement

Featuring: Susan Milligan, Director, Patient + Guest Experience, Ensemble Health Partners

Featuring: Sean Buzzard, Regional Manager, Patient Experience, Ensemble Health Partners

This year’s World Mental Health Day was on October 10th, 2022, with a theme of “making mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority.”

The overall objective of the day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize supporting efforts. Mobilization does not mean a day of recognition or lip service, but to generate a movement. To do this, there are two foundational requirements: Leaders who drive the movement and the stigma that often surrounds mental health.

If mental health is to become a movement, it needs leaders driving it forward, and who better to lead that charge than Patient Access? In our daily roles, we act as the face of our organizations.  We encounter patients at their best and their worst. We struggle with staffing shortages that can lead to burnout. We advocate for our patients and, when coupled with the empathy we demonstrate every single day, we are often left mentally and physically exhausted.

A movement cannot begin without eliminating the stigma of mental health needs, nor should these needs be kept secret. Sports icons and celebrities across music, film and theater are coming clean and admitting they need to step away sometimes to regain their mental health. That is admirable and bringing awareness to the problem. In our busy lives, it is easy to overlook our mental health needs because they may be less obvious than our physical needs, or we may diminish the priority of our mental health. Starting with a healthy mindset about the importance of mental health is foundational.

Once the foundation is laid with committed leaders and an empowering culture, providing accessible, meaningful resources can generate progress toward a movement. Many organizations offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that connect associates with free or discounted counseling services. These services not only support physical health, but include how to establish work/life balance, manage finances, and offer assistance in dealing with threats to our mental health. A well-known Psychological Wellbeing Scale, Ryff, measures six aspects of wellbeing and happiness: autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance (Ryff et al., 2007; adapted from Ryff, 1989). Leaders can also emphasize the equality of physical and mental wellbeing by incorporating Ryff’s structure and following these six quick tips:

1.   Allow Autonomy

When associates are given autonomy and empowered to take action to deliver (and recover from) service at work, involvement and job satisfaction thrives. Feeling autonomy in one’s thoughts and actions—meaning the ability to share one’s thought process for the decision making in a safe environment—builds connection and acceptance. Instilling autonomy in your team gives them the freedom to evaluate situations by their personal standards, and this often leads to higher levels of overall performance.

Quick Tip: Consider holding regular meetings where on-the-spot decisions are discussed for after-action review by the team. This provides a great team approach to problem solving if the decision was not the best alternative, and the team can then create a playbook for frequent situations that will help guide a consistent approach in the future.

2.   Establish Environmental Mastery

Autonomy and environmental mastery go hand in hand. Both tie into empowerment and build competency and mastery in managing the work environment. When associates can make effective use of surrounding opportunities—flex schedules, hybrid roles, cross training, educational opportunities, etc.—their personal needs and values are supported, increasing happiness and wellbeing. 

Quick Tip:  Use outside-of-the-box thinking when it comes to creating schedules and setting workflows. Your way is likely not the only way things can be done. Seek and be open to other methods to fill schedules, meet goals and drive change.

3.   Encourage Personal Growth

Our number one resource is our people, and leaders must know their teams on an individual level to help them grow. These relationships are built through rounding, one-on-one meetings, team meetings, and pure curiosity. If you know where your associates are on a developmental and personal level, it’s easier to guide them toward their respective goals. When associates see their skills grow, it helps them realize their potential and seek additional opportunities for their development. 

Quick Tip: Have meaningful conversations.  Don’t assume you know your team’s aspirations. Schedule time to discuss both short- and long-term goals. Write growth plans. Most importantly, celebrate and recognize the small wins toward the overall goals and foster accountability so they don’t give up. 

4.   Inspire Positive Relations with Others

Everyone needs a battle buddy, someone with whom they can have a warm, satisfying, and trusting relationship. These work confidants build associate capacity to understand the give and take of relationships, encourage empathy, and create a safe environment to be themselves. 

Quick Tip: This starts at onboarding! Connect your new hires with someone who can support them through the onboarding process. Plan team events inside and outside of the office and don’t forget those who are virtual. Volunteer together and build a team so strong no one knows who the boss is!

5.   Connect to Purpose

Thriving teams feel connected to the work. When positions within Patient Access become a calling rather than simply a job, people generally find a greater sense of fulfillment in doing the work. Focus your team’s vision on the mission and vision of the organization to help them understand the importance of their presence and dedication.

Quick Tip: Establish meaningful goals on both a personal and professional level with your team. Demonstrate how their work contributes to the mission of the organization. For example, if a team is focused on point-of-service collections, show how that money contributes to patient care and/or community support.

6.   Foster Self-Acceptance

Self-acceptance has positive effects on overall wellbeing as it allows us to embrace every part of ourselves, not just the “positive” things! Self-acceptance is unconditional—you can recognize weaknesses and quirks, but still fully accept yourself. 

Quick Tip: Allow each person to express their tastes (and taste buds!) through a “uniquely you” potluck. Encourage team members to create and bring in a dish they enjoy eating and preparing. Have them fill out a card with the name of the dish, ingredients (for allergy purposes!) and why they love it. If someone likes sardines and peanut butter, so be it! No apologies and no validation! You may be surprised to learn of new and exciting food combinations.

Remember, focusing on mental health is not a one-day exercise.

Each of the tips above is focused on daily actions that can generate ongoing support and mental wellness. In addition, great leaders know when associates are stretched and may be close to their max. Making an intentional effort to spot the signs of overwork, stress or mental health needs makes a significant difference in the culture of supporting mental health. Don’t wait for associates to raise their hands in frustration or push to the point of burnout. Instead, be proactive in reassigning responsibilities or providing time off to refresh and recharge. Leaders are needed to drive this movement and to create an atmosphere of support and empowerment. Be that leader.

These materials are for general informational purposes only. These materials do not, and are not intended to, constitute legal or compliance advice, and you should not act or refrain from acting based on any information provided in these materials. Neither Ensemble Health Partners, nor any of its employees, are your lawyers. Please consult with your own legal counsel or compliance professional regarding specific legal or compliance questions you have.