As rewarding as community association management can be, the career path also faces high rates of burnout, depression, and mental health issues. Those challenges are rarely discussed, but Bill Overton, PCAM, of Desert Resort Management in Palm Desert, Calif., has been trying to lower the stigma around mental health struggles in the industry.
The first step is understanding how common mental health issues are. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 21% of U.S. adults struggled with a mental illness in the past year, including 25.8% of females and 15.8% of males over the age of 18. If you are struggling, you’re not alone.
“You would never guess I had depression,” says Overton. “We don’t talk about our weakness. We don’t talk about our mistakes.”
Mental health struggles have a financial cost for employers too. The faster an organization burns through employees, the more often it must bring in new hires. Turnover is expensive. The human cost is even higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among men between the ages of 20 and 30. And this is only one way stress contributes to health crises. Stress is a known contributor to many serious health complications, though this data is harder to quantify. “Men don’t talk about it,” Overton expresses. “Successful men don’t talk about it. A lot of us are depressed.”
Overton explains that the community management profession, like many others, often selects high-performing depressives and people-pleasers. “Nobody thinks you’re depressed when you get stuff done,” he says. Taking on the toughest assignments and refusing to ask for help is rewarded. The cost of performing so high, when doing so means ignoring one’s own health, is burnout. Depending on the severity, consequences can range from inconvenient to deadly.
How can managers learn to handle both the workload and mental health? Start by creating a completely different level of awareness. Everybody’s mental health is equally important, and everybody needs to take regular care of themselves to maintain it. Some have struggled with mental illness for their entire lives; some will develop mental illness later due to external or internal factors; others will not face mental illness at all, but we all struggle with stress.
Every person owes it to themselves to learn what they need and to prioritize giving themselves those things. Every organization owes it to their employees to restructure working life, leaving room and support for self-care.
For some people, this might mean getting a mental health counselor, spending more time outdoors, getting more sleep, exercising more, adopting an emotional support animal, taking more time off work, opening up to a trusted friend or family member, or a combination of these. Knowing we are not alone and taking the time to listen to, support, and care for each other is an excellent first step in prioritizing mental well-being.
“People change the subject a lot when someone tries to discuss their struggles,” Overton says. “Instead of just saying, ‘Feel better,’ let’s talk about it.”
CAI and the Community Association Managers Council has put a priority on developing resources to help managers find healthy, functional approaches to their personal and professional lives. Access the Community Association Managers Wellness Guide, and search CAI’s Learning Center for on-demand webinars and conference sessions on stress, mental health, and healthy habits.
>>September is Suicide Prevention Month. If you or someone you know needs help, visit 988lifeline.org.