deanna caudillo - Editorial: Mental Health Modeling: What is the cost?

By: DeAnna Caudillo, MPH(c), Community Organizing Specialist, The Independence Center I President, NALHE Denver Metro Chapter

Mental Health Modeling: What is the cost?

As we move into Mental Health Awareness month I am struck by all the conversations about self-care in order to stave off burn-out.  But what does all of that mean when we are faced with a global pandemic and a seemingly endless onslaught of civil unrest?

What happens if we don’t do self-care?  As Latino healthcare professionals we must wrestle with this question on a daily basis.  We are asked to be models for our community, strong advocates for those who do not have a voice and change agents in the industry. That’s a heavy burden to carry.

Let’s take a brief look at the data to give us a picture of what we feel all around us.  According to the CDC in 2019 the percentage of adults in the U.S. who reported symptoms of depression or anxiety was 11%.  When we fast forward to 2021 the Kaiser Family Foundation report shows us that number has exponentially increased to 41.1%.  So, the notion that people are feeling overwhelmed is real and we need to act sooner rather than later to course correct.

There are many programs and initiatives that exist to promote mental health awareness in the workplace. Organizations have spent good money to get great advice on how to improve mental health outcomes for their employees.  But we continue to see trends going in the wrong direction and it’s costing us dearly.  The Center for Workplace Mental Health estimates that $44 billion dollars is lost each year in productivity due to depression.  This number doesn’t include the cost to morale, the time and resources it takes to find and onboard new employees when people leave or the less-than-optimal outcomes for patients when being served by a provider who is not fully available to engage.

Mental health remains a taboo topic. 

We, as leaders in our field, may carry concerns of our own about admitting that we are struggling with feelings that consume more of our time than we would like.  And this is where we can make a great ROI on a few personal changes.

Modeling behaviors for our staff and colleagues is a powerful tool that is easy to overlook. The world of psychology has shown us that a person’s brain changes when it interacts with another brain.  That means that when we model a behavior, whether it is a healthy eating habit or a healthy mental health habit, others around us notice and begin to mirror those behaviors.  Our brain has mirror neurons that pick up on behaviors around us and internalize those feelings, attitudes, actions and beliefs that go along with them.  This is what advertisers do all the time when they show us happy people eating food.  Our brain sees those happy people eating a specific food and our brain connects the idea of the food with happiness.  It works to get us to that nearest restaurant and it’s the same mechanism that can work to help us form healthy mental health habits.

Like it or not we are influenced by those around us. 

It becomes important to seek out people who are hopeful and have the ability to manage their emotions well.  Remember that emotions are contagious and this includes negative as well as positive emotions.  Model good emotional regulation strategies to those around you.  Name your own feelings (without oversharing) and then model strategies that help you move into healthier emotional spaces.  For example, “I’m feeling a bit confused about what is happening and I can see that I am getting frustrated.  Why don’t we all take a break and I’m going to go for a walk and drink some water to try to emotionally regulate so that we can think through a solution together.”  This simple admission of feelings and strategies that you would like to employ creates a space for your team to see that you are aware of what’s happening internally for yourself and invested in a positive outcome for everyone.  You are willing to do the work that you need to do so that you’re available for the team in a healthy and productive way.

It’s not enough to give people resources.

Remember that people know that restaurants exist around them but it’s not until they see someone eating the food and smiling on television that they become cued to get up and go to the restaurant.  People respond to the behaviors of those around them and that’s one way that you can become the largest change agent of all.  There is a quote that says, “A great leader does not tell you what to do, they show you how it’s done.”

I would encourage us all to lead by example when it comes to mental health in the workplace. Seek supportive services if you need them yourself and be invested in the mental health of your staff.  It’s not only costly to the organization if we leave mental health struggles unattended it also costs the community whom those professionals serve.

Contact: DeAnna Caudillo,