Bending, Not Breaking: Promoting Mental Health in Challenging Work Environments

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by Nicole Dhanraj, PhD, CRA, RT, R, CT, MR

As we honor Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m taking a moment to discuss an often-overlooked aspect of our roles as leaders in the imaging field – nurturing mental health, both our own and that of our teams.

I often draw parallels between our mental resilience and the concept of tensile strength in materials science. Much like materials resist tension up to a breaking point, we cope with psychological stress until we reach our limits. The beauty, however, lies in our capacity to learn, adapt, and grow stronger from these stressors – a phenomenon we call resilience.

When stress surpasses our mental resilience, we experience what I’d liken to a fracture – a mental health crisis. It’s not a defeat but a clarion call to action. It signals the need to reach out to a trusted colleague, a mental health professional, or workplace resources.

As leaders, we are uniquely positioned to recognize signs of mental health concerns within our teams. These could surface as changes in mood, performance, or even physical symptoms. But let’s not forget to check in with ourselves too. Are we feeling overwhelmed, having trouble focusing, or worrying more than usual?

Fostering a culture where seeking help is seen not as a weakness but as a strength is crucial. We must ensure that mental health resources are readily accessible and their use is encouraged. Regular mental health training can be invaluable in helping everyone understand what resources are available and how to access them.

However, we must also reflect on how our actions might inadvertently contribute to mental health challenges. Overworking, setting unrealistic expectations, or failing to model a balanced work-life can lead to burnout. We need to lead by example, demonstrating healthy working practices.

Healthy working can involve setting clear boundaries between work and personal time, promoting physical activity, and practicing mindful communication. But let’s think outside the box too. How about implementing wellness challenges, quiet hours, or a pet-friendly workspace? These unique initiatives can help foster an environment that truly prioritizes mental health.

Overcoming the stigma associated with mental health is crucial to this journey. As leaders, we can facilitate open conversations about mental health, sharing our experiences and encouraging others to do the same. Remember, everyone navigates work challenges differently, and a situation that seems trivial to one could be a significant stressor to another. Promoting understanding and empathy within our teams can help us appreciate these differences.

The strength lies not in never breaking but in our ability to learn, grow, and become stronger through our challenges. As imaging leaders, let’s strive to create an environment where everyone feels safe to speak openly about their mental health, to seek help without fear of judgment, and to support each other through the journey. Here’s to making mental health a priority this month and beyond.

Niole is member of the AHRA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, and can be reached at

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