This was the powerful message from a clinical psychologist who spoke at the 2022 Gases and Welding Distributors Association (GAWDA) Annual Convention being held in San Diego, California this week.
Michaela Bucchianeri works as a research and educator about mental health. She began her presentation to a packed conference hall by spelling out just how many are suffering with mental health problems today in the US. One in five Americans have a mental health issue at any given moment, and almost one in two suffer with a diagnosable disorder at some point in their lives.
“And that figure does not even take into account those mental health concerns that are occurring below the level of a diagnosable disorder or in the context of a medical concern, like chronic pain. It is a gross underestimate, and it is still a lot of us,” said Bucchianeri.
With mental health among staff impacting every company, the good news, said Bucchianeri, is that it is entirely possible to cultivate a workplace culture that makes it easy for all of us to foster better mental health.
The industrial gases industry is defined by its people, said Bucchianeri, and therefore will benefit across the board from its organizations mastering mental health to cultivate workplace environments that serve people better and make it easier for individuals to enjoy good mental health.
Bucchianeri noted that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. It is, rather, a state of wellbeing that enables each of us to cope with the stresses of life, realise our abilities, learn and work well and be contributing members to our communities. It is a basic human right and is essential to personal wellbeing, community and socioeconomic growth.
Edward Leon is President of Cryogenic Industrial Solutions and featured in Bucchianeri’s presentation. He said that for him exercise and quiet time to process play important roles in managing mental health.
“I exercise in the morning and I also pay attention to nutrition, in which I’m trained,” said Leon in a video clip. “Those are variables I can control. We are an industry that collectively takes pride in its work ethic, but you must be careful with it. You can work hard, but you have to prioritise sleeping well.”
In a later clip Leon said, “In the workplace, I try to be very open with my anxieties. I feel like there is a culture in many contexts where bosses are not easily allowed to show fear. But it is okay to be uncomfortable and you need to communicate that to your team. It needs to be culturally okay to say: I am scared too. Acknowledge it and don’t minimise it.”
Bucchianeri signed off by challenging the industry’s leaders to embrace five qualities that would enable their workplaces to cultivate good mental health among staff.
The five qualities she said leaders need to embrace are humility, cognitive flexibility, accountability, curiosity and gratitude. Humility, for example, means being able to say “I don’t know” and humble yourself as a leader when that’s the case. Cognitive flexibility is another way of saying: I was wrong, I need to change tack. Accountability translates as saying I’m sorry without qualification or deflection, while curiosity is about the leader being generous with their attention and time; and gratitude means being able to say thank-you and express appreciation.
Bucchianeri said all five qualities being manifested by leaders would help organizations to thrive.
“The data show that what emerging leaders are asking for and what healthy humans need and what successful businesses are built on are one and the same,” she said. “It is not often that the data point in one clear direction like this.”