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The need for whole-person health: World Mental Health Day 2022

Carina Cortez

Chief People Officer, Cornerstone

Content warning: This article discusses themes of mental health, including depression, self-harm and suicide.

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and the theme for 2022 is “Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority.” My mental health aspiration is simple: Integrate mental and physical health into whole-person health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

  1. One billion people worldwide are living with a mental disorder
  2. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability
  3. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds
  4. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely due to preventable physical conditions

If this clear connection between mental and physical health isn’t a call to action for organizations to focus on whole-person health, I’m not sure what is.

My journey to whole-person health

I’ve previously written about my own mental health journey and why it’s so important to me and continues to be imperative throughout my personal and work life.

When I shared, very publicly, my story in 2020, I wasn’t sure how people would respond, especially employees in the organization I worked for at that time. Would they see this as a weakness? That I shouldn’t be in my role? Would they judge me? Dismiss me? How would my friends and acquaintances respond? With all that anxiety about posting the story, you may wonder, “Well, why would you share your story then?” The answer for me is simple. To effectively make a change and begin erasing the stigma around mental health, it’s essential that we talk about it openly and freely.

In sharing my own story, I had an overwhelmingly positive response from others. People felt comfortable sharing with me their own journeys and stories. It made space for people to check in on how others were really doing, which was so critical, especially during the COVID-19 lockdowns. I’ve had individuals I’ve done business with reach out to me, even a year after sharing my story, to tell me about the impact my journey and my willingness to share it publicly has had on them.

In particular, one individual shared that my story prompted him and his wife to have a deep conversation on mental health, ultimately leading him to seek help through counseling. People in my very own neighborhood have shared their personal stories with me, now realizing they, too, have someone they can speak freely and honestly about this topic. Even today, people seek me out to share the positive impact of hearing my story and how it has led to change in their own lives. That is why I continue to share and advocate for mental health awareness and resources.

How COVID-19 made the need for whole-person health even more apparent

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and depression increased by 25% globally and disproportionally impacted young people, with their risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviors increasing significantly. This was, unfortunately, true in my household.

My daughter, who was self-harming and experiencing suicidal thoughts, gave me permission to share here about her mental health situation. During lockdown, my husband and I entered her into an inpatient program. We could only visit her for one hour each day. My child was craving the support of their friends, but we were in isolation. So, we had to seek out psychiatrists and psychologists on our own. This search was an extremely challenging process as the demand for these professionals outpaced the supply. My husband and I had no experience on how to deal with this, relying heavily on our own research. We made a lot of mistakes. There were many sleepless nights, arguments and feelings of helplessness. Yet, we forged ahead and were able to get my child the help they needed.

Eventually, we were able to get the diagnoses so we could treat the underlying issues. My daughter tried different medications — a lot of trial and error — in order to finally get to the right one.

I’m so grateful for the support of family, friends, co-workers and medical professionals who helped us through this rough period. She is doing so much better today because of the resources we had available to focus on her whole health — physical and mental. As we continue this journey, we’re now optimistic about the future.

And I’m fortunate to have a platform where I can amplify my voice and share my perspective. I’m even more fortunate that organizations where I have worked (previously and currently here at Cornerstone) offer mental health services, resources and support.

Organizations can and need to do more

When I joined Cornerstone, one of the first things I did was take an inventory of our mental health offerings.

I was most impressed by our original diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) learning series, A Seat at the Table, which is available to all of our Cornerstone Content Anytime (CCA) customers. The series puts different groups of people from diverse backgrounds with unique personal experiences and insights around one table. There they share and have honest, authentic and unscripted conversations about how social issues have impacted themselves and others in the workplace.

One of the series’ courses really connected with me. It focuses on depression — specifically, whether a person should talk about depression at work. Themes of the discussion centered around vulnerability, erasing the stigma, helping people understand they aren’t alone and creating compassion. Each one of these themes resonated with me on a deep level.

How you can bring whole-person health to your organization

The foundation of every healthy organization is its people, they are the heart of the business, and it is imperative that organizations focus on whole-person health. I shared a bit about the journeys of myself and my child because mental health affects the whole person and those around them. For those of us in human resources roles, we must make the business case for why whole-person health is so critically important. We must demand investment in both physical and mental health resources. I’m proud to say that at Cornerstone, we offer:

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
  • Time off days, like Pause and Recharge Wellness days, company holidays, family and medical leave
  • Employee disaster relief
  • Development Days to focus on learning
  • Cornerstone Resource Groups – communities for understanding and belonging: Women@Cornerstone, Working Parents, Cornerstone PLUS, Black Employee Alliance, Unidos, Disability Visibility
  • Financial wellness resources
  • Hormone therapy
  • Gender affirmation surgery with travel reimbursement
  • Surrogacy, fertility and infertility support
  • Medical travel reimbursement for services not offered in your area
  • Special needs and gifted-child resources
  • Adult caregiver support
  • Grief and loss resources

At Cornerstone, we will continue evaluating our offerings to ensure we focus on whole-person health as we move into 2023 and beyond.

We aren’t alone on World Mental Health Day

The connection between mental and physical health is clear — they go hand in hand — and we as leaders have the opportunity to prioritize the concept of whole-person health for ourselves and those around us for the betterment of our people. My hope on this World Mental Health Day, and always, is that we take the necessary steps toward building a path to whole-person health and stand firm in our commitment to hearing and supporting our people in every way they may need it.

I am not an expert, and my story is uniquely my own. If you feel you need assistance, please reach out to your medical professional and to a friend or family member if you can’t do this alone. If you’re in need of immediate attention, call your local emergency services or contact your local Suicide Prevention program.

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