By Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia, PhD
It’s no secret that our nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 1 in 5 American adults will experience a mental health condition in a given year. Rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions are on the rise, as is demand for behavioral health professionals, who are frequently in short supply. And, all of this impacts our workplaces and our local economies, because when left untreated, mental health conditions can lead to absenteeism, performance issues and people leaving the workforce entirely.
This past September, I joined a National League of Cities (NLC) webinar that explored these crucial issues and their effects on cities, towns and villages. Co-sponsored by NLC and the U.S. Department of Labor-funded State Exchange on Employment & Disability, the event highlighted the important link between mental health and employment, and ways cities can adopt effective work-related mental health policies, plans and practices.
Creating a resilient, inclusive workplace and community is a top priority for me. During the webinar, I shared some of the mental health-related strategies and tactics we are implementing in San Antonio. First and foremost, I model mental health-friendly practices for my own staff by taking a “Mental Health Monday” when needed. Each year, I designate certain Mondays every other month as days that I will take off work to rest and recharge.
In that same vein, city governments can foster workplace cultures that are supportive and welcoming of workers with mental health conditions. For many organizations, one strategy includes offering Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which help employees and family members experiencing personal difficulties. In the City of San Antonio, our EAP offers 24/7 access to mental health care for employees. We also permit city employees to work remotely and seek other workplace accommodations that will help them succeed on the job.
We often host employee Lunch & Learn webinars on a range of wellness topics, from healthy eating, to reducing stress, to boosting your mental health. These webinars frequently spark important conversations and reduce stigma around mental health conditions. And, for certain cultures and communities that tend to avoid talking about mental health, these forums are a great opportunity to promote dialogue and openness.
Cities should also bring mental health support to their residents. In San Antonio, we have invested $26 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds into mental health, which has bolstered services for youth and facilitated the creation of a Chief Mental Health Officer position. In addition, our police department has partnered with our schools on the Handle with Care program, which ensures children exposed to traumatic events in their home or community receive appropriate interventions.
To address the behavioral health care workforce shortage, our city sponsors the Ready to Work program, which offers individuals training and education, often leading to better skills and higher-paying jobs. To date, more than 1,700 individuals have received training for jobs in the healthcare field, resulting in skilled professionals who can deliver critical mental health care to people in need. Similarly, SA CORE (Community Outreach and Resiliency Effort) is a pilot program we launched to bring a holistic response to certain 911 calls focused on mental health crisis intervention.
A common theme throughout these efforts is meeting our residents where they are. We as city leaders need to lead with empathy and engage our employees and community members at a service level that makes sense for them as individuals. By doing so, we can foster inclusion and help our residents and workers thrive.
About the Author
Adriana Rocha Garcia, PhD is a Councilwoman representing District 4 in San Antonio, TX, and a recent panelist on NLC’s webinar on inclusive mental health policies, and at the 2023 City Summit Solution Session panel in Atlanta, both events co-sponsored with the U.S. Department of Labor’s State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED). To learn more about SEED and receive guidance on disability-inclusive policymaking, visit dol.gov/agencies/odep/state-policy.
Striving for Mental Health in the Workplace
Organizational leaders are well-positioned to influence a positive culture shift and normalize mental health in the workplace. NLC, along with American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association, ICMA and the YMCA encourage your organization to make a commitment to improving mental health in your workplace.