The Long Neglected Prerequisite for Effective Leadership: Mental Health Awareness

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Acquiring essential leadership skills makes a person a  great leader. But, what if I tell you that there’s something else that makes you an effective leader? Something often  overlooked yet remains crucial in order to be an effective leader . 

According to research, each year, 1 in 5 adults acquires  a diagnosable mental illness,  almost 50% of whom receive no treatment. With difficult  economic circumstances  and rising living costs , mental health difficulties are affecting people at every socioeconomic and professional level, from minimum wage laborers to leaders alike. Toxic work environments, that include bullying and unrealistic expectations in demanding roles, also create a sense of alienation and isolation as people lend their souls to their jobs.

As a result,  it’s easy to turn  apathetic, feel emotionally unstable, overwhelmed, demotivated, and drained…and in the worst case, to be abusing drugs, subconsciously acting out in (and thus ruining) important relationships, or even self-harming out of the intense emotional pain of anger, frustration, and self-hatred.  All these undoubtedly take a toll on working adults’ mental health and well-being, not to mention their productivity and output as members of society too. 

It is time for  leaders to start taking ownership of their titles as leaders by taking the lead in resolving mental health related issues at their workplace. This is a skill. 


How prepared are leaders in handling mental health challenges? 

Due to a lack of resources,  a majority of leaders do not feel empowered. Few publications and sources specifically highlight a leader’s ability to manage or support mental health-related issues at work. Typically, leaders show up unprepared to handle  mental health matters. Truly , leaders need to develop the required understanding and compassion for all things mental health. 


How does the efficacy of a leader relate to mental health awareness? 

Simply put, mental health awareness enhances one’s leadership by transforming them into a human-centered leader, which ultimately encourages leaders to establish true strength when they accept  vulnerability and practice wisdom through creating environments in which their staff are free to be  creative, psychologically comfortable, and transparent about their mental health. 


What changes can be anticipated as a result of developing this leadership skill?

Leaders have the ability to use their influence to foster a kind of work environment that encourages mental and emotional health. Effective leaders always make an effort to apply relevant knowledge and skills , and this is reflected in their actions. For instance, they may start spending more time with the staff beyond working hours, sharing personal experiences and even setting an example of self-assurance, self-regulation, and self-care— implementing problem-solving and coping strategies first and foremost in their own lives. Such  psychological and social interventions at the personal level of the leader creates a fundamental paradigm shift  that effectively opens up a sense of possibility and mastery amongst those working with them.

Moreover,  by establishing a culture of camaraderie and psychological safety, leaders  help boost team members’ levels of productivity by ensuring that they have the necessary sustenance and an emotionally healthy environment. Indeed, studies suggest that workers who openly discuss mental health  at work experience lower levels of stress, greater confidence, and inspire increased productivity. 

While  leaders are not required to identify and treat mental health problems, being fluent, invested in, and committed to mental health enables them to assess related problems within their team. Plus,  cultivating a sense of empathy, warm concern, and community is just as essential as  keeping accountability for individual tasks. In short, they may promote both compassion and accountability together rather than having to make a choice between the two. 


Sivasanker Subramaniam 

Diagnostic Lab Manager 

MAHSA Health Sdn. Bhd.