Mind Talk
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Mind Talk

Should Organizations Mandate Counseling?

Getting Rid of the Mental Health Stigma One Conversation at a Time

Imagine: you’re a consultant who’s been working on a real tough engagement for the last few weeks. There have been long nights and weekend work. On more than one occasion you’ve been admonished by your manager, your client, or both. Your relationships with your colleagues — who are also your mates — are strained.

When you finish the engagement, your team leader calls and says “I’ve booked you in for your 30-minute session with our in-house counselor tomorrow.”

You don’t freak out. This is not strange to you.

It’s expected.

The Mental Health Stigma

Unfortunately, if this scenario happened to most of us today (and it does, constantly, minus the last bit) we’d probably be flabbergasted. The stigma around receiving professional help for any stress, anxiety, or anything to do with mental health is astounding. We’re all expected to keep pace in a high-pressure environment where most leaders would are lost for words when the response to “how are you doing?” is anything but “fine.”

This shouldn’t necessarily be unexpected. The majority of people in leadership positions within professional services firms and other large organizations lack the experience and empathy to deal appropriately with those situations. It’s very difficult for someone who can’t empathize with what you’re going through to help you get through it. What is often really needed in situations where we’re struggling is professional help.

So, what if all professional services firms/large corporates made professional counseling mandatory?

This was the idea of a reader of one of my most popular articles, dealing with anxiety and insecurity in professional services firms, which has been read around 10,000 times in the last couple of months sparked many interesting conversations.

What Happens When Counselling is Compulsory?

If — after a tough assignment, or a few times a year — you were required to book in with a counselor to debrief on the assignment, all of a sudden the abnormal becomes very, well… normal. We start seeing real benefits:

  1. The stigma disappears. If everyone’s doing it, it’s not taboo.
  2. People who are struggling with the idea of asking for help get it anyway. This happens most often with male professionals, who tend to feel emasculated by the notion of seeking counseling.
  3. We all learn a lot more about ourselves and make sense of the way we’re feeling.
  4. This, in turn, helps us empathize with others. We can ask “how are you doing?” and be genuinely ready to receive the answer, whatever it may be.
  5. Mental health awareness becomes a daily practice, instead of something we shout from the rooftops about for a week every year.

Why This Won’t Happen

This is highly unlikely to happen because many organizations (especially professional services firms) are driven by chargeable hours. Counseling takes away time and money. It’s also very difficult to quantify the benefits from a business perspective. We’d expect that staff morale and retention would improve, and with them so would productivity. Without it actually being implemented, however, it’s impossible to tell.

The result is a reality in which this probably won’t happen in most organizations.

But what if it did?

We all owe it to ourselves to understand how we’re feeling and know what to do when we’re struggling. While organizations don’t typically mandate counseling, most have professionals available to help you if you are struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, or anything else that’s keeping you down. You’re not any less of a professional if you ask for this help. You’re human.

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Mark 'Addy' Atkinson

Career accountant turned VC imposter. I write for young professionals at https://trench.life and use Medium to talk about what I’m currently learning.