U.S. workers are continuing to quit their jobs in droves, with a record of 4.3 million resignations happening in August 2021 alone. Considering the continued rise in employees experiencing burnout, it’s no wonder people are deciding to distance themselves from work or to look for new opportunities. In fact, a recent survey shows that  44% of workers are more burned out on the job than they were one year ago.

Because of these trends, employers are now facing very difficult challenges when it comes to attracting new talent and retaining the talent they have. Fortunately, many companies have taken note of the mental health toll the pandemic has had on their workforce and have reacted by offering more well-being benefits and resources to support employee needs.

But offering help is only half the battle. To see positive outcomes like decreases in stress and increases in engagement and productivity, employers need workers to use the tools and programs available to them. But to do this, they need to be aware of their value. This often involves education and cultural change.

Stigma Stops High Performers From Seeking Help

The media has shaped the way we view mental health problems. It presents a very misleading picture, with an abundance of negative stereotypes and few stories of recovery. The stigma surrounding mental ill-health, and how it’s depicted, are major obstacles in our ability to understand its nuances.

The reality is that employees can have a mental health problem and be functioning well. And those who aren’t may not show visible signs or talk openly about it. Due to stigma around mental ill-health, many top performers learn to disregard or actively hide that they are struggling. Numbers bear this out. A study by The Hartford revealed that 72% of U.S. employers say stigma associated with mental ill-health and addiction are keeping workers from seeking help. Some may even view their symptoms as just par for the course in high-pressure roles.

When symptoms go unnoticed or unacknowledged, they ultimately go untreated. This, combined with stigma, prevents high-performers from getting help when they need it: This is a blind spot that employers must reconcile to avoid losing their best people. To change this, we must reframe how we understand mental health and well-being in the workplace. Because high performance and poor mental health aren’t mutually exclusive.

It’s safe to say employers should not assume that their best talent isn’t at risk. So, how do they know if they are?

A Nonbinary View of Mental Health

Since the mid-20th century, most mental healthcare has operated under a “single-spectrum” model, which conceptualizes mental health and mental illness as distinct phenomena at two ends of the same continuum. This model suggests that improving mental health means moving along the continuum, away from mental illness.

A key flaw inherent to this model is that it equates mental health with the absence of mental illness. This doesn’t allow for the fact that some individuals diagnosed with a mental health problem can experience positive mental health, and even flourish — a circumstance we know is certainly possible. It also doesn’t allow for someone without a diagnosed mental health problem to be languishing, an experience many of us may have become familiar with. To understand these nuances, we need a different approach to wellness: the dual-spectrum model.

The dual-spectrum model (sometimes known as the dual-continuum model) is an evidence-based approach, now about 20 years old, that says every person, at every moment, is living in a state where two separate and distinct realms of mental well-being intersect: mental health and mental illness. This concept says that at any given time, we are all somewhere on both of those realms, and as a result, we are somewhere between flourishing or languishing at any time. Under this model, complexities in wellbeing can be better identified, because we’ve removed the either-or perception of mental health and mental ill-health.

The dual-spectrum approach offers two important perspectives that are critical in providing effective support for employees:

  • People with mental health problems can still perform and flourish.
  • Employees without mental health problems may still fail to thrive.

With a dual-spectrum approach to wellness, you are equipped to recognize that everyone’s mental well-being can benefit from intervention … and, at least, a little nourishing.

Supporting a Dual-spectrum Approach

The stigma and inaction perpetuated by a single-spectrum understanding of mental health can make it harder for companies to understand when their people are struggling. This frequently results in offering only reactive strategies, with low levels of take-up.

For companies that are offering mental health resources and training, the goal should be to implement solutions for everyone and to create cultural change – one of awareness and openness, and one that celebrates mental health for all.

To do that, well-being initiatives should aim to provide employees with these three critical supports:

  • Programs designed to support all employees, all of the time (not just those experiencing symptoms of mental illness).
  • Holistic resources to help employees improve their psychological, social and physical well-being.
  • Evidence-based tools and training to help employees build awareness, empowering them to proactively measure and manage their mental health – and support others.

By applying a dual-spectrum model to preventative employee well-being solutions, employers can better recognize and support the needs of all of their people – even those least expected to be struggling.

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