Skip to main content

More than Medals: What Employers Can Take from the Tokyo Olympics’ Mental Health Milestones

More than Medals: What Employers Can Take from the Tokyo Olympics’ Mental Health Milestones

I watched the Tokyo Olympics with the rest of the world and celebrated the athletes, their dedication, and their successes. But to me, the Olympics will be remembered for more than competition – they’ll be remembered for the conversations they sparked around mental health.

Gymnast Simone Biles ignited that dialogue with her decision to step back from the team all-around final, citing mental health as a concern. While she took plenty of criticism for bowing out, to me, her decision showed bravery and courage on another level.

But it’s not just athletes who are taking part in this conversation – the Olympics have opened the door to discussions about mental health with friends, family and colleagues. In fact, as Head of Culture and Field Experience at RBC Wealth Management, I am happy to see this conversation play out in the workplace, too. A big part of my role is working to advance understanding of mental wellbeing – it’s central to who we are. But I also uniquely understand because I went through my own mental health challenges.

I have anxiety. It’s something I’ve lived with for most of my life, but for a long time didn’t realize it. I just thought that constant feeling of panic and the inability to sleep at night because of everything running around in my brain was normal. So I pretended I had everything together.

But after the birth of my first son, I stopped sleeping and lost 30 pounds in two weeks and I realized something was wrong. One day it got so bad, I called my doctor and she sent me to the psychiatric emergency room, where I received my diagnosis: severe postpartum anxiety. Along with that diagnosis, I got a prescription for anti-anxiety medication and with it, a sudden rush of shame.

There’s a stigma attached to a mental health diagnosis. But there are ways, as companies and as colleagues, we can help.

Talk, talk, talk.

The Olympic stage is just the beginning. The more we talk about mental health, the more we can help to shrug off the stigma. Especially in the workplace, where after seventeen months of a pandemic and instances of social unrest, employees need to feel like they can share their human side.

Looking back, I realized that for years, I perpetuated the idea that we have to keep it all together, all the time. I did so because I never shared my challenges with anyone, but instead put on a happy face, no matter what else was going on in my life. In reality, I’m messy and we are all messy at different times.

When I started sharing my struggles and my imperfections, I connected with people in a much deeper and more authentic way – and they connected with me. It opened up communication and created a bond, which can be so important in our day-to-day work lives.

[Related: How Vulnerability in Leadership and Creating Psychological Safety Can Unlock True Potential in the Workforce]

Meet people where they’re comfortable.

With the sensitivity around mental health, not everyone will be comfortable with a face-to-face conversation. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why companies need to provide a variety of resources to support employees.

At RBC Wealth Management, we have resources available through many different channels. RBC’s medical plans include telehealth and we’ve made it easier to use these services through the pandemic by temporarily providing no-cost visits (no co-pays or co-insurance).

Several programs offer free, confidential counseling for employees and their family members who may be experiencing stress, depression, and other mental health concerns. Employees have access to mental health webinars and we provide a free year-long subscription to a meditation app because people need different resources during their mental health journey.

[Related: COVID-19 Will Fundamentally Shift Office Culture in the Future. And That Might Be a Good Thing.]

Lead the way with empathy.

As leaders, we have a special responsibility to embrace empathy, not just for our colleagues and their mental health journey, but also for ourselves. A little late to a meeting because of a child’s forgotten backpack? Accidentally hit “reply all” with a comment meant just for one person? Self-criticism can be harmful. After all, we wouldn’t judge others for these imperfections, so why judge ourselves?

Let’s all grant ourselves a little grace and kindness and realize it’s okay to focus on mental health and sometimes it is a must, just as Simone Biles did. And even now that the Olympics are over, her mental health journey continues and hopefully, so does the conversation.

[Related: The Pandemic Helped Us See Employees in Real Life. Let’s Take What We Learned and Build on It.]


Shareen Luze is the Head of Culture and Field Experience at RBC Wealth Management.

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

Are you or someone you know struggling? Contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for support.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook: