CEO candor would help destigmatize mental health

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg attends a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron (not pictured), during the “Choose France” summit, at the Chateau de Versailles, near Paris, January 22, 2018.

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MELBOURNE, May 7 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Sometimes words can speak as loudly as actions. So it is with mental health. Many companies mercifully take employee stress and other psychological conditions more seriously. At the same time, few chief executives are willing to open up about their personal struggles.

Even before the pandemic shook emotional stability worldwide, the issue was higher on the corporate agenda. A panel of CEOs from the American Heart Association published a 159-page report in 2019 titled “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis.” It pointed to the “compelling interest” for employers to promote positive mental health in the workplace.

Putting things in hard terms of costs and benefits, including productivity, is a good way to get boardrooms to act. However, when it comes to mental health, the human side is equally important. There is still unwarranted shame and discrimination that cause people to avoid or delay treatment.

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About a quarter of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, the National Institutes of Health estimates. While C-suites can be populated by a particularly resilient group, it’s obvious that they deal with similar proportions of anxiety, depression, and other conditions. Their super-sized salary isn’t an antidote.

And yet it’s hard to find “captains of industry” discussing how their therapists or SSRI medications help them cope. Facebook (FB.O) Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg shared how grief consumed her when her husband passed away in 2015. António Horta-Osório, recently appointed chairman of Credit Suisse (CSGN.S), was candid about how the financial crisis strained him mentally to the point where he needed a two-month leave of absence to lead Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L). Matthew Cooper, the co-founder of EarnUp, a financial technology startup, publicly wrote last year that he was resigning to prioritize his mental health.

These examples resonate because they are so rare. They also stand in stark contrast to the harsh image projected onto Wall Street and beyond, which means that vulnerability is not tolerated. Lloyd Blankfein worked through chemotherapy to lead Goldman Sachs (GS.N), while Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan (JPM.N), who recovered from heart surgery last year, appears to be unsympathetic to staff who are put off by turning back. return to their commute.

Given the number of bosses bickering about whether or not to disclose physical ailments to shareholders, it might be a stretch to think they will be honest about their mental health. However, it would help to destigmatize the subject.

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– Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Breakingviews, is giving employees a mental health day off on May 7, in addition to recognizing World Mental Health Day as a public holiday on October 10.

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