World Mental Health Day, recognized every year on October 10, was established by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992. The goal of the day is to “raise awareness in the global community about the critical mental health agendas – with a unifying voice through collaboration with various partners – to take action and to create lasting change.”
In recognition of the day, we spoke with Courtney W., Sarah D. and Heather T., the co-founders of Cengage Group’s Mental Health Alliance (MHA) employee resource group, to learn about the ERG’s mission and initiatives and get their thoughts on employers’ roles in the mental health of their employees.
Tell us more about the Mental Health Alliance and its mission at Cengage Group. When and why was this group founded?
“We started to discuss the possibility of what became MHA during the late summer of 2020, when we were all managing through a high level of pandemic uncertainty. A question about a wellness-based ERG came up in Slack during one of our all-company First Friday meetings and a few of us jumped on the opportunity to explore it more and to build out the vision for it,” said Courtney W., Sr. Learning Designer and co-founder of MHA.
“Courtney, Heather, and I launched the Mental Health Alliance in May 2021. While we all had a passion for mental health, we noticed that COVID-19 brought mental health concerns into the conversation in a way we’d never seen before. With work and life blurring during quarantine, it became impossible for many to separate their mental health state from their work life and pretend things were fine when they weren’t. We knew it was the right time to form an ERG to create a space for connection, support, education and resources to support mental health,” added Sarah D., a Project Manager for the Cengage Academic Strategy & Business Operations team and co-founder of MHA.
“Our mission is to serve as a resource to the organization to support employee education and growth, foster employee connection around topics of holistic health and wellness, and further strengthen our commitment to diversity & inclusion and a conscious company culture,” said Heather T., Portfolio Product Manager and co-founder of MHA. Courtney added, “We aim to create an environment of support and solidarity and, through the intersectional approach our programming takes, we also see it as a way to exemplify Cengage Group’s DEI values.”
Sarah said, as co-chairs, "our biggest responsibility is listening to the community, especially community members with marginalized identities, to understand their mental health needs, and then to create programming or work with Cengage Group leadership to create policies and structures that meet those needs.”
What does World Mental Health Day (October 10) mean to you?
“World Mental Health Day is recognition that mental health is universal. It’s also an opportunity to drive awareness for individual mental health and to reflect on the societal perceptions of mental health. This includes the language and misconceptions that cause further stigma, as well as the impact of that stigma on underrepresented populations,” said Heather.
“There has been so much growth to that end over the past few years, but it’s an ongoing effort to raise awareness and ensure people know how to get the resources they need to live fulfilling and healthy lives,” added Courtney.
“For the MHA ERG at Cengage Group, World Mental Health Day is a chance to foster connections across the company through shared experiences with mental health,” said Heather. And Sarah added, “World Mental Health Day gives us an important opportunity to uplift our global and multicultural community here at Cengage Group.”
What are MHA’s goals and initiatives over the next year? What are you most excited about?
“During the Mental Health Alliance ERG’s first year, we heard a desire for mental health education and support – especially in response to COVID,” said Heather. “As we continue to listen to the needs of our community, we’re excited to launch a new direction around the idea of 'rest' to support mental health. We’ll support this shift with programming around that theme including education, events and speakers.”
“We’re extremely excited about this new direction,” added Sarah. “Part of this will include education and discussion around the various types of rest and the kinds of self-care that people feel make the most genuine impact on their mental health. We plan to host sessions where we can actively engage in self-care practices including meditation sessions and journaling,” said Courtney.
According to Sarah, MHA will be “following the leadership of brilliant thought leaders like Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry and T. Aisha Edwards of Radical Rest Healing Justice. We recognize that rest is a critical foundation of mental health and inextricably linked to social justice and equality. Rest impacts everyone, and different communities like people of color, parents, women, LGBTQ+ people and disabled communities have unique challenges in accessing rest. Our goal is to drive universal access to rest by centering and uplifting our most rest-marginalized communities.”
What role or responsibility do you think an employer has in an employee’s mental health?
“I think it’s important for employers to create a sustainable working environment that supports the physical and mental health of employees,” said Heather. Sarah added, “I think employers are responsible for acknowledging that their employees are whole human beings, and that their lives outside the office impact their lives inside the office.” While employees get to set their own boundaries regarding whether, when and how much to share about their mental health experiences and needs, employers are responsible for meeting employees with compassion, curiosity and collaboration.”
“I think it’s also appropriate for employees to have a voice in the conversation when it comes to key elements of work/life balance and the culture and policy work it takes to create a fair, equitable, flexible and empowered work environment,” said Courtney.
Sarah continued, “employers have the responsibility to create cultures where mental health is accessible to employees—for example, offering mental health support resources, setting attainable goals and manageable workloads, encouraging use of sick and vacation time, and having leaders model vulnerability, self-care and flexibility.” Courtney added, “It’s also important to train managers to have empathic discussions around sensitive topics and to nurture a culture of mutual trust and respect among all roles within the organization.”
What steps has Cengage Group taken to help fight the stigma of mental health and positively contribute to employees’ mental well-being?
Heather begins, “Cengage Group embraces a company culture that supports mental health. It’s built into our Credo: 'Our culture values engagement, empowerment and discovery. We are accountable to and for each other.' In practice at Cengage Group, this looks like:
- Creating employee resource groups that foster community and give space to specialized groups
- Wellness Days that offer employees additional opportunities for rest
- DEI training to ensure our people and our products understand, respect and reflect diversity
- Leadership that candidly shares their own personal experiences.”
“As an organization, Cengage Group has taken many steps in the right direction. We were awarded the Platinum Bell Seal award by Mental Health America, which measures organizational mental health support,” added Sarah. “We’ve offered numerous Employee Assistance Program (EAP) resources including free counseling sessions, provided Wellness Days for opportunities to rest and recharge and brought conversations about mental health to the center stage through our speakers and programming. We are always striving to create a culture where it’s safe and normalized to talk candidly about mental health.”
“I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to do,” said Courtney. “We’ve invited mental health experts in to give talks to employees on various topics like eating disorders, general stress management and BIPOC mental health. We’ve hosted panels where employees openly discuss their experiences with mental health care and the ways they have learned to care for themselves and their holistic health. We were also glad to be invited to a First Friday conversation with Michael Hansen, our CEO, to discuss the topic of mental health across the full global organization to raise awareness, destigmatize the topic and share more with employees about how to get involved. Additionally, we have an active Slack channel in which people have shared vulnerably some of their experiences with mental health. It’s been inspiring to see the way people show up for one another with empathy and support. We are fortunate to work with truly wonderful and caring people.”
How has your work with the Mental Health Alliance ERG positively impacted your role and the work you do at Cengage Group?
“I’m so grateful to be part of this ERG. My involvement as co-chair allows me to serve a cause I am passionate about, and it’s given me an opportunity to connect with people across the organization who share this passion,” said Heather, who has worked at Cengage Group for about 15 years. “It’s also helped strengthen my own emotional intelligence skills and made me feel more empowered to practice vulnerability in my professional space.”
Sarah, a Cengage Group employee for six years, added, “As a co-chair, I practice many skills like active listening, seeing the root cause of a problem, coordinating cross-functional roles and driving execution. My Mental Health Alliance role provides another opportunity to hone my project management skills and also gives me the opportunity to connect with more people across Cengage Group.”
“My involvement in the Mental Health Alliance ERG has helped me to grow my own self-confidence, facilitation skills and leadership abilities,” added Courtney, a Cengage Group employee for 15 years. “And, since my role as a Learning Designer has a strong focus on inclusion, I’ve been able to advise on ways to make our content, and the language used within it, more inclusive and supportive of people with diagnosed mental health conditions.”
Courtney continued, “It’s been fulfilling to know that we’re doing something that connects employees to one another so that we may continue to build a culture in which people have each other's backs and stand in solidarity and empathy with one another. It’s part of our Ethos to ‘do more together’ and I think MHA and our other amazing ERGs really exemplify that. We come together as a diverse group to listen, learn and reflect alongside each other.”