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Prioritizing Mental Health: Step Forward honors Mental Health Awareness Month in the workplace

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to highlight the importance of one’s mental wellbeing and to bring hope to those facing mental health challenges.

In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environments, it is crucial for employers and employees alike to prioritize mental health and mental health in the workplace.

“We are celebrating National Mental Health Awareness month agency wide,” Sharon Thompson, Step Forward Head Start’s Early Childhood Inclusion Coordinator, advocated. “Our intent is to build a mental health toolkit that will help us cope and become more resilient through adverse times.”

Throughout the month of May, Thompson sent Step Forward staff messages on how to practice mindfulness. The initial calendar provided individuals with daily suggestions such as trying to find 15 minutes of sunlight, creating a ‘favorite things’ corner, basket or space with pictures of people or things they love, incorporating a favorite color into their office space, and more.

“Negative self-talk is an inner dialogue you have with yourself that may be limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own abilities. This often stops us from reaching our potential,” she said on day five. “Take ten minutes today to recognize the good in you, the good things you have accomplished, and the good things you can look forward to in your future. All it takes is ten minutes!”

Throughout the month of May, Step Forward’s Joint Coordinators coordinated “The Great Escape” by surprising Head Start teachers at each site with an unplanned break from the classroom. Each individual received 15 minutes to refresh and regroup.

"What stood out for me was the smile on the teachers' faces when we participated in the Great Escape taking over their classrooms," Renata Turner, another Step Forward Head Start Early Childhood Inclusion Coordinator, said. "The teachers and children both seemed impacted. I enjoyed seeing the relief and appreciation on the teachers' faces and the children seemed happy to have new playmates! This experience gave confirmation of why I come to work."

“By fostering a supportive environment that addresses mental health concerns and promote wellbeing, employers can cultivate happier, healthier and more engaged employees,” Madeline Corchado, Step Forward’s Vice President of Human Resources, explained. “Employers who recognize mental health acknowledge that their employees are not just workers, but multifaceted individuals with complex emotions. By creating and maintaining a culture that support mental health, employers encourage their staff to prioritize self-care, seek help when needed and maintain a health work-life balance. This leads to reduced stress levels and a higher overall quality of life.”

When employees feel supported and valued, studies have shown they are more likely to be motivated, engaged and productive. Recognizing mental health helps create an environment where individuals feel comfortable discussing their concerns and seeking help if needed.

“In a competitive job market, candidates are increasing seeking employers who prioritize mental health and overall well-being. Organizations that recognize and address mental health concerns are more likely to attract and retain top talent,” Corchado said. “By prioritizing mental health, employers demonstrate their commitment to the holistic development and long-term happiness of their employees, making the organization a desirable place to work.”

Simple mindfulness exercises for employees include:

  • Breathing Exercises: Encourage employees to take short breaks during the day to focus on their breath. One simple exercise is the "4-7-8" technique: inhale deeply for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, and exhale slowly for a count of eight. This exercise can be performed anywhere and helps calm the mind and body.

  • Body Scan Meditation: Employees can engage in a body scan meditation to develop body awareness. Starting from the top of the head and moving down to the toes, individuals focus their attention on each body part, noticing any sensations without judgment. This practice helps relax the body and bring attention to the present moment.

  • Mindful Walking: Encourage employees to take short mindful walks during their breaks. Instead of rushing, they should slow down and pay attention to each step, the sensations in their feet, and the surrounding environment. Walking mindfully allows individuals to connect with the present moment and gain a fresh perspective.

  • Gratitude Journaling: Encourage employees to maintain a gratitude journal, noting down three things they are grateful for each day. This practice helps shift the focus from negativity to positivity, fostering a sense of appreciation and well-being.

  • Guided Mindfulness Apps: Suggest mindfulness apps like Headspace or Calm, which offer guided meditations and mindfulness exercises. These apps provide a structured approach to mindfulness practice, making it accessible to beginners and seasoned practitioners alike.

Step Forward embraces Mental Health Awareness Month as an opportunity to prioritize mental wellbeing, as we build a workplace and long-lasting legacy that thrives.

Step Forward is hiring!

The agency is offering a sign-on bonus of $1,000 for full-time employees and $500 for part-time Head Start employees.

Positions include case managers, customer service specialists, teachers, and more. Take a step toward a new fulfilling career today! Learn more and apply to open positions here.

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