Mental health support and awareness initiatives can help security leaders proactively mitigate threats and ensure the success of their teams, who often work under high levels of stress.
This Mental Health Awareness Month, Security magazine highlights some of the many intersections of mental health and safety and security programs, from behavioral threat assessment-based violence prevention to mitigating the effects of burnout in the security field.
Industry leaders have shared their insights on mental health, employee morale and incident prevention with Security magazine’s podcast channel, The Security Podcasts. Below, dive into some of their advice for proactively recognizing and preventing mental health challenges — and check out their full episodes for longer explorations of these topics.
1. Break the stigma
Creating an organizational culture that promotes conversations about mental health can help companies get employees the support they need, mitigating potential incident escalation in the process.
“I think the [organizations] that are more successful in all aspects of business are the ones that are breaking through that stigma barrier and normalizing mental health. But there are a lot of things that can be done still, and different innovative ways that different companies are [addressing mental health], and it takes time and communication by the right leaders the right way,” says John Rodriguez, corporate security professional and Founder of Empathic Security Cultures, LLC.
Rodriguez emphasizes the importance of leadership involvement in breaking the stigma around mental health, both in leading discussions with their teams and sharing their own struggles with mental health.
Listen to more of Rodriguez’s workplace culture and mental health insights here:
2. Recognize & combat burnout
In addition to leadership instilling a culture of mental health support in their organizations, it’s important for all security professionals to identify and mitigate the effects of burnout. Meg West, X-Force Cybersecurity Incident Response Consultant at IBM, shares her own experience with burnout in the industry.
“The thing that I always tell myself is, ‘It’s okay to feel burnt out. It’s okay to take breaks.’ There was a very long time in my career… where I was just go, go, go. It was, ‘How can I get to the next position? How can I get the next certification? How can I achieve the next thing, get accepted to speak at the next conference?’” says West.
“Unfortunately, you get to this spot where you’re like, ‘Man, I don’t want to spend my time after work studying for a certification.’ And people feel ashamed or guilty about that, because unfortunately, there’s this air within cybersecurity that if you’re not constantly doing cybersecurity, then you’re not worthy of being in the field, or you’re not a good enough cybersecurity professional. And I’m here to tell you that that’s completely inaccurate. If you can’t sit down at your day job in the morning, put forth your best effort, and be curious, interested and passionate about helping out your company, then you’re probably too burnt out.”
Listen to West’s tips for mitigating burnout in a security role here:
3. Build community & business resilience
Addressing the stress of a security role is an important step in building business resilience, according to Bec McKeown, Director of Human Science at Immersive Labs. She says that training for a crisis event can help employees build resilience and know when to act in the face of an emergency.
“The research that’s been done into resilience is really interesting, and it’s found it’s not just about personality traits. Resilience is something that can be trained. You can actually raise the standards of most people within the organization to become more resilient,” she says. “By regularly doing exercises, and then regularly reviewing those exercises, as well as any events that might happen, that’s building the ability to make connections between previous decisions… it’s building up what I would call cognitive agility.”
“Another vital part of it for me is the term ‘social support,’” continues McKeown. “To me, it’s about building relationships, because the last thing you want to do is test relationships between the people within your organization in a crisis mode.”
Listen to more of McKeown’s crisis planning strategies here:
4. Team with mental health professionals
When it comes to school safety, a number of institutions have begun to implement crisis management teams made up of mental health and safety professionals to help deescalate incidents. Implementing a behavioral threat assessment approach can help identify individuals who need access to mental health support and mitigate school violence, according to Dr. Marisa Randazzo, Executive Director at Ontic.
Assessing and managing threats to schools based on community member behavior comes down to “how schools and local law enforcement and mental health professionals can partner together to look at troubling behavior, figure out if there really is a risk or a threat posed, and then, most importantly, figure out how to prevent harm from occurring,” says Randazzo.
“It is absolutely possible to prevent school shootings,” says Randazzo. “But we have to know what to look for. And then we have to know what to do about it.”
Listen to more of Randazzo’s school safety insights here: