Why Intersectionality is Key to Your Workplace Mental Health Inclusion Efforts

by Dr. Komal Bhasin

The last year has made it increasingly evident that prioritizing mental health inclusion is more critical than ever for organizations seeking to advance their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

On the backdrop of the pandemic and with a workforce collectively dealing with the trauma of a global illness — not to mention the record numbers of burnout that continue to affect our teams — we know from research that people are experiencing heightened diminished mental health at this moment.

With World Mental Health Day quickly approaching on October 10th — and fittingly, this year’s theme of “Make Mental Health & Well-being for all a Global Priority” — as bci’s Mental Health Expert-in-Resident, I wanted to use this moment to spotlight why it’s so important to apply an intersectional lens to our mental health inclusion work, especially when it comes to racial equity.

In particular, I’m thinking of professionals of color and Indigenous professionals and our experiences with mental health inclusion in the workplace. Although the research on race/ethnoculture and mental health is at best limited, and at worse both limited and heavily flawed, we know that People of Color and those from Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities, in particular, experience poorer health overall tied back to social and structural injustices and inequities.

We also know that while diagnoses for mental illnesses appear to be similar across racial/ethnocultural groups, access to essential mental health care and the quality of the care and support that is provided substantially differs due to racial inequities. In other words, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) experience more serious mental health challenges as a result of racial inequities.

As you can see, our cultural identities can have a major impact on our experiences with mental health in the workplace.

Given this, here are three ways for leaders to ensure that their workplace mental health inclusion efforts also address racial inequities.

3 Ways to Promote Intersectional Mental Health Inclusion at Work

1. Bias Disruption

Organizations must continue to focus on disrupting biases around mental health and starting meaningful and inclusive conversations around mental health, and in particular, BIPOC mental health. To help you with this, bci has 3 tip sheets to help you identify your biases, understand how bias affects you and shield against bias when it comes your way.

2. Center Racial Equity in Mental Health Conversations

Organizations must focus on centering racial equity and BIPOC mental health in any broader discourses about mental health inclusion. In other words, we must move beyond lip service and viewing the mental health of BIPOC professionals as an individual experience and instead focus on understanding that BIPOC mental health must be viewed in a broader societal and intersectional context. To make this happen, leaders need to understand more about racial inclusion. bci’s playlists about understanding race and racism and healing from racial trauma can help with this.

3. Prioritize Mental Health Inclusion Work at the Systemic Level

Finally, as we’re thinking about mental health inclusion, organizations must situate this in context of systemic change. One example I like to use is micro-inequities or micro-aggressions. Micro-inequities are often seen as individuals acts or isolated instances that are subjectively experienced, but it’s important to view micro-inequities as an articulation of power or supremacy that operates at the larger structural and institutional levels. Similarly, when it comes to BIPOC mental health we need to be thinking about how inequities permeate societal systems and structures as well as how these inequities can affect individuals.

In the wake of World Mental Health Day, my hope is that you’ll focus on BIPOC mental health as part of your overall mental health inclusion training – this is what’s necessary if you truly wish to create a workplace culture that supports your BIPOC colleagues.

As part of bci’s range of cutting-edge mental health inclusion programming, BIPOC mental health inclusion is one of our dedicated areas of expertise. If you’re interested in learning more about this programming, please reach out to the bci team here.

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Dr. Komal Bhasin, MSW, MHSc, DocSocSci

Komal is bci’s Senior DEI Consultant and Mental Health Expert-in-Residence and an accomplished DEI facilitator, coach, and strategist. Komal has over 20 years of experience in providing strategic and advisory guidance and program development across a range of sectors, with a particular concentration in mental health and racial inclusion. Komal is also the founder of Insayva Inc., a social enterprise focused on providing accessible DEI and health equity support to charities and non-profit organizations.

Komal has extensive experience in creating and delivering programming in a range of DEI areas, including unconscious bias, cultural competence, mental health inclusion, psychological safety, and allyship. She is passionate about driving transformational change in workplaces and has worked closely with bci clients — corporations, professional services firms, health care providers, and educational institutions — to embed cultures of DEI within their organizations.

Komal has provided one-on-one inclusion coaching to hundreds of senior leaders and brings a unique approach that is informed by her background as a therapist. She is able to expertly handle sensitive conversations and situations and works with leaders to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to advance racial/ethnocultural, gender, and mental health-related equity across teams and organizations. Komal also offers a performance coaching program designed specifically for BIPOC leaders. This program aims to help BIPOC leaders harness their place, position, and identity to thrive in the workplace and beyond. Komal is a qualified administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

As bci’s Mental Health Expert-in-Residence, Komal offers tremendous expertise around workplace mental health. As a doctoral trained mental health clinician, certified health executive, and registered social worker, Komal has assisted organizations looking to advance employee mental health inclusion and well-being through offering programming on inclusive dialogue, anti-stigma, burnout prevention, psychological safety, resilience, and self-care. Komal is committed to advancing mental health and wellness across the life course; she currently serves on the board of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario and previously served on the board of Children’s Mental Health Ontario and the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

When Komal is not working, you’ll find her painting, cooking or snuggling with her cat.

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