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Zac MilbournLeadership & Development Specialist, FourKites

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. With mental health entering more of our daily conversations, it’s important that we have a shared, foundational knowledge to talk about not only what mental health is, but also why it’s important and what we can all do to take care of both ourselves and the people around us. For example:

Over the past several years, we’ve put together a number of different resources here at FourKites to help our employees take care of their mental health and cultivate a healthy work-life balance. I’ll be getting into each of these in more detail in a moment, but first it’s important to answer the critical question: “What is mental health?”

What Is Mental Health?

This Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re taking a cue from Mental Health America (MHA) and getting back to basics. One of those basics is answering the critical question: “What is mental health?”

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, how we feel and how we act. Everyone has mental health, and it plays an enormous role in one’s overall wellbeing. Someone who is mentally healthy is able to enjoy their life and the people in it, feel good about themselves, keep up positive relationships, and deal with stress in a healthy way.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness.

Causes of Mental Health Issues

It’s normal for a person’s mental health to change over time, and there is often no one, single cause for one’s mental health condition. Instead, there are many possible factors that can influence how likely a person is to experience a mental health condition Some risk factors for mental health conditions include:

  • Genetics
  • Lifestyle/Habits
  • Trauma
  • Environment

In addition to these risk factors, social, cultural, and historical factors often impact the mental health of communities that have traditionally been marginalized. These communities experience overt racism, prejudice and discrimination. The prevalence of mental health conditions is highest among adults reporting two or more races, according to SAMHSA.

Understanding the risk factors for a mental health condition can be more difficult when it’s your own mental health. Take time to check in with yourself about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, or consider seeking out the perspective of a trained mental health professional or someone with whom you have a strong relationship.

Mental Health Terms to Know

Here are a few key terms from Mental Health America:

  • Stress: A feeling of emotional or physical tension in response to being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure
  • Lived Experience: First-hand, personal experience dealing with a mental health or substance use challenge
  • Risk Factor: Something that increases the chances of developing a mental health condition
  • Protective Factor: Something that decreases the chances developing a condition and/or balances out an existing risk factor
  • Stigma: Negative, judgemental, and/or discriminatory attitudes toward mental health challenges and those who live with them
  • Self-Stigma: Negative attitudes and shame regarding an individual’s own mental health, resulting from internalizing public stigma
  • Recovery: A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.

What You Can Do

There are a number of things that directly impact mental health. Three of the most important are nutrition, exercise and sleep.

  • Nutrition: Our diets have a huge impact on our mental state. It’s important to not only make sure you’re getting enough food, but also the right kind of food. In particular, make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, B-group vitamins and Vitamin D, all of which are important to healthy brain function.
  • Exercise: Physical activity and exercise has been strongly linked to positive self esteem, healthy brain function and reduced stress. Inversely, physical health problems significantly increase the risk of developing mental health problems as well. You don’t have to live an incredibly active lifestyle, but just make a little bit of time whenever you can to prioritize physical activity.
  • Sleep: When it comes to sleep, both quality and quantity are important. A good night’s sleep means being asleep for 85% or more of the time you’re in bed, falling asleep in under 30 minutes, and waking up no more than once per night for no more than 20 minutes.

Making small improvements in any of these three areas can have major positive impacts on your mental health. Screening is also important for catching problems early. A mental health screen is an evaluation of a person’s mental health and wellbeing through scientifically validated assessment tools.

Global Recharge Day

Here at FourKites, we have a number of initiatives in place to help our team members maintain and improve their mental health. One of these important initiatives is Global Recharge Day.

Every quarter, FourKites offers this opportunity to give our employees time to rest, relax and take a break from work for a little while. By offering them as a company-wide holiday, there are no emails to come back to or urgent Slack messages to worry about missing. Our next Global Recharge Day falls on May 20th.

Recharge day allows me to stay away from the computer on a weekday and spend quality time with my family. I use that day for teaching new things to my daughter and son (Cycling, Gardening, etc), helping out my wife in cooking and cleaning and we all sit together and watch movies in the evening. Thanks to FourKites for giving out the recharge day once in a quarter for every employee. Really good initiative and kudos to the HR team for implementing this great initiative!

– Sathish Kuppuswamy, Quality Assurance Manager – QA

What Else We’re Doing

We’ve been making a big push internally to share actionable information with our global team throughout the month. It’s critical, however, that mental health awareness and support not simply end in May. That’s why we offer a number of other resources for our employees, both remote and in-person:

  • Therapy and Mental Health Services: FourKites’ healthcare plan covers outpatient mental health benefits at 100% for in-network services. This means that you can see a therapist or other mental health professional at no cost to you. Many therapists will also provide a free 15 minute consultation for you to get to know them and how they conduct practice. Check out this list of questions to consider when getting to know a therapist.
  • Employee Assistance Programs: Our Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) provide confidential support to employees for everyday challenges or more serious problems and  allow workers to take some time to check-in with themselves.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: FourKites provides free membership to the mindfulness and meditation app Sanvello. Sanvello’s features include: daily mood tracking, guided journeys, coping tools, progress assessments and more.
  • Physical Health Support: Taking care of your physical health can help you manage your mental health. To make taking care of your physical health more rewarding, we’ve partnered with Rally Health to offer raffles, gift cards, and auctions. You can earn gift cards by completing physical activity check ins, virtual appointments, and biometric screenings. You can also earn coins to enter into the raffles by completing missions, challenges, surveys and even just logging into the website!

As a society, we clearly have a long way to go to eliminate the stigma around mental health. It’s our hope, however, that by leading the conversation and providing our team with support wherever we can, we’ll begin to move the needle in a positive direction. Everyone has a role to play, and we have to start somewhere. You can find out more about what it’s like to be a part of the FourKites team, right here.

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