May 20, 2024

Recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month

Recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month


As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to acknowledge the significance of emotional and psychological well-being in the workplace. According to the American Psychological Association, 92% of workers in America said it is very (57%) or somewhat (35%) important to them to work for an organization that values their emotional and psychological well-being.

At Cengage Group overall employee wellness is a top priority, providing both traditional wellness and benefits offerings as well as programming and resources that support mental health and well-being. In 2021, our Mental Health Alliance (MHA) Employee Resource Group (ERG) was founded, further supporting our commitment to wellness. This ERG has a vital role in nurturing a caring and diverse atmosphere, where mental health is normalized and openly discussed.

Courtney Wolstoncroft, Senior Learning Designer and co-lead of the MHA ERG, shared that “in 2021 we were at the height of the pandemic, and it became clear that mental health was something that we had to destigmatize and talk about. Since then, we have alternated between offering educational webinars, opportunities for community connection and even time containers for rest and reflection.”

This year, for the third year in a row, we earned the Bell Seal Platinum award from Mental Health America, which recognizes organizations whose policies and practices support employee well-being and mental health. “We appreciate that Mental Health America has created this framework to allow organizations to be measured by their commitment to employee treatment and well-being. We spend a massive percentage of our lives at work, so it’s wonderful to have some established guidelines designed to hold employers, like Cengage Group, accountable.”


To acknowledge Mental Health Awareness Month, the MHA ERG is providing special programming for employees throughout the month, centered around this year’s theme, Mental Health in a Changing World. In our fast-paced world, it can be difficult to take care of one’s well-being, manage stress and cope with challenging situations. The ERG co-leads and its members are leaning into supporting themselves and one another with special guest speakers, Dr. Sumi Raghavan, Clinical Psychologist, who spoke earlier this month about coping with change and uncertainty, practicing digital boundaries and developing resilience, and Dr. Alex Reed, Clinical Pediatric Psychologist, who will speak later in the month about parenting to support both kid's and caregiver's mental health.

Following Dr. Sumi’s ERG presentation, we had the opportunity to dive deeper into strategies for supporting mental health in the rapidly evolving workplace. Discover her insights:


What are some effective strategies for managing stress and maintaining mental well-being, especially during times of organizational change?

The first is to validate and normalize that these are expected responses to unexpected situations. Healthy nervous system functioning does not involve having no reaction and ‘rolling with everything.’  While it’s true that psychological flexibility involves an element of openness and ‘go-with the flow’ so to speak, major organizational change and job insecurity are absolutely going to elicit feelings of fear, frustration, anger, worry and other potentially distressing emotions. If that’s where you are, it’s worth validating this response.

Second is to think about ways to create meaning, connection and joy. Many things can fit into those categories, but building a true self-care practice involves inserting some of this into each day, each week, on a consistent basis.  So, to stay connected to some sense of meaning or purpose in what you do, and really get specific here. Write down three ways in which your work has a meaningful impact on various levels: team, organization, customer, world at large. Re-read that list, and really think about how it feels to have been a part of those things. If the counteracting ‘yeah but’ thoughts come up, try to shift them to ‘yeah and’, which is a healthy approach that makes room for all feelings.

The third is ‘acts of service’, or ways of choosing kindness and appreciation for others. Studies show that even in the workplace, people feel better about themselves and more optimistic when they engage in service to their coworkers in small ways. Encourage acts of kindness, examples could include leaving a post it note on a colleague’s desk, or a sending a slack message that you’re noticing their hard work, and you appreciate them. Be specific on this. Another could be offering to take some work off their plate, or even getting them a coffee.



How can individuals cultivate a positive mindset and foster resilience in the face of challenges and setbacks?

One hallmark of psychological flexibility, which is an important predictor of resilience, is the ability to simultaneously hold opposing and differing emotions. People may feel nervous and excited or curious about how this evolution will unfold. These feelings don’t have to cancel each other out—they can coexist.  One thing that happens when anxiety is particularly high, over a period of time, is that our cognitive processes become constricted. This is a protective mechanism in the brain that allows us to address the problem at hand while filtering other things out, but to do so, we can fall into black and white thinking because there’s less bandwidth for nuance. Getting into this constricted space can be a function of all of our stressors—work concerns, personal life, sadness and fear about global events, which many folks are contending with right now. We carry a lot every day. Staying as expansive as possible, and noticing the black and white thinking trap, can be helpful here.

We can also remind ourselves that feelings are not facts, and that feelings are temporary, while normalizing that stress and frustration are common responses to turbulence and change. I'm a big believer in de-shaming bad feelings, because once we enter into a state of shame and self-blame, we can start to shut down.


How can leaders and managers create a supportive and inclusive work environment that prioritizes the mental health and well-being of their team members?

People leaders can really set the tone during times of organizational change by being both sources of support and models for self-care. Being honest and validating the feelings of the team members, ‘yes, this is hard,’ and being unafraid to be personal, ‘It’s hard for me too. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I’m also nervous at times, but I’m excited about what may happen next. I go back and forth.” Hearing a people leader say this helps increase the sense of being ‘in it together’ and offers permission for the employee to share their own concern. When folks feel heard, they’re better equipped to keep going, keep on trucking if you will.

People leaders can also create opportunities for autonomy and choice within the team. During organizational restructuring, people become very aware of the limited control they have, and this awareness can lead to feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. People leaders can combat that by infusing as much control and choice as possible into the team. Anything where you can allow people to express preferences, take ownership of tasks, be creative and make decisions can be meaningful.

Lastly, people leaders can also reinforce that asking for support is okay, and this may be interpersonal on the team, in personal lives or even professional support. I’m a psychologist who helps folks dealing with burnout; I see people all the time who tell me it was a colleague or boss who told them, ‘Hey, you’re really beat down, I think you should talk to somebody.’ that made all the difference and helped validate their feelings.


How can individuals become better allies and advocates for mental health in their personal and professional lives?

I think the biggest thing we can do here is normalize making space for our wellness. It’s more than just the solution to severe burnout, but something that should be part of our overall health. Talking about the ways we take care of our own mental wellness candidly, (examples: ‘I go to the gym for my mental health’ or ‘I go to therapy’), sharing your experiences and inviting others to do the same. When a colleague seems like they're struggling, reach out. Create a community of compassion at work and in life.


Learn More:

Click here to learn more about the MHA ERG and World Mental Health Day. Click here to learn more about Cengage Group’s commitment to wellness and discover insights from Chief People Officer, Jeri Herman.