Dr. Allie Sharma on Mental Health in the workforce

Dr. Allie Sharma on Mental Health in the workforce

This month we're kicking off our interview series. At PlumTree, we are all about making people feel seen, heard and recognized. We would like to inspire you with personal experiences of various people in the workforce.

May is Mental Health Awareness month. PlumTree spoke to Dr. Sharma about mental health in the workforce.  

Dr. Sonali Sharma, known to her friends and colleagues as Allie, is a Cornell-trained board-certified Adult Psychiatrist, has run a private practice in Manhattan for over ten years, and partners with healthcare startups to build behavioral health programs.

In a few sentences, could you introduce yourself and describe your domain of expertise? 

I am a clinical psychiatrist and have worked in many types of settings across cultures and settings including program building in health tech, integrating mental health into primary care, private practice, emergency psychiatry, and have been working on a start-up in the past year of a soon to be revealed modern mental health practice.

When talking about mental health (and more specifically at work), have you noticed new mental health trends or challenges related to the work environment? If so, could you describe them? 

The first thing I have noticed is that in certain industries there is more sensitivity about mental health, both in terms of self-advocacy at the level of the employee as well as awareness at the level of management.

The second observation is that a lot of companies are providing their employees with better mental health benefits. Twenty years ago therapy coverage was not a norm. Now there are a lot of B2B companies like Ginger, Lyra, Talkspace that offer free mental health sessions to their employees as a benefit, which is great! There is also a demand at the employee level to talk about mental health and make it a priority. 

Another trend I see are the challenges related to working in a hybrid work culture. We shifted to working from home with COVID and now we have shifted to this new interim routine. These adjustments can exert challenges in the workplace related to workplace cohesion, personal fulfillment and our overall wellbeing and should be examined. 

Do you have the feeling that employees' mental health is a concern for companies today?

I do have the sense that the employee mental health is becoming a higher priority. We know if we invest in people's mental health, we can actually increase productivity and create a happier and more productive workplace. So I think it is a great investment for companies to make and I see this trend happening for sure, which is reassuring, but there is still variability across sectors and organizations.

And also something to note is that the World Health Organization (WHO) now recognizes burn-out as an occupational syndrome. More info on that here. It’s not considered a medical condition, but it’s in the International Classification of Disease (ICD-11).

Do the patients you see feel that they can safely share their mental health challenges with their employers?

Everyone has a different comfort level based on their circumstances but I definitely hear of more people discussing their mental health openly with their employer or with an HR representative. The term 'mental health day' is becoming more acceptable especially among younger generations and is less stigmatizing. This is person to person dependent though - it very much depends on how taking time off for mental health or advocating for one's own mental health (which can be a challenge) may impact one's standing in the workplace.

Do you know specific tools or processes companies could use to help detect mental health challenges their employees may be facing? Are there any best practices you think of?

We have screening tools for use in the clinical setting which would require consent. You can definitely do employee surveys. One simple wellness survey that is validated is the WHO 5.

If you had a piece of advice to give to companies to take better care of their employees, what would it be? If you had a piece of advice to give to employees to take better care of themself, what would it be?

Create a supportive culture and create a culture where mental health is routinely discussed as part of staff onboarding, staff training and staff meetings, in policies and procedures, and especially at the level of leadership. And most importantly, make sure that health and HR benefits reflects that mental health is a priority!

What is a motto or a quote that is meaningful to you in your working life?

Mental Health is a part of health. No health without mental health!

What would you tell some of your employers, looking back at your career?

Invest in mental health! Because if you invest in mental health for your employees, you're investing in your company and your work culture. 


About Dr. Sharma
Dr. Sonali Sharma, known to her friends and colleagues as Allie, is a Cornell-trained board-certified Adult Psychiatrist, has run a private practice in Manhattan for over ten years, and partners with healthcare startups to build behavioral health programs.

Dr. Sharma’s approach is broad and open-minded, drawn from her professional experiences working in various settings and across cultures throughout New York City and around the world. Her goal is to ensure that her patients’ experience is valuable, therapeutic, and grounded in best practice standards and clinical excellence.

Dr. Sharma has held various clinical positions, including Emergency Psychiatry at Columbia University, Student Mental Health at Columbia University’s health science campus, and supporting mental health of the homeless population across shelters in New York City.

In addition to providing direct clinical care, Dr. Sharma has had significant experience in Global Mental Health and in leadership positions within Public Psychiatry including at an NGO in Europe advising at the country level for two post-conflict countries on how to integrate mental health into primary care, as a World Health Organization (WHO) consultant on projects in Libya, Ethiopia, for WHO’s mhGAP Intervention Guide version 2.0 and various other WHO projects, in a Bronx primary care system starting a collaborative (integrated care) care program, and more recently as a Director of a Thrive NYC initiative designed to expand the mental health workforce in NYC’s highest need communities.

Most recently, she was an Associate Medical Director at CityBlock, a $10B tech-driven healthcare provider for underserved communities. She is currently a Women’s Health Advisor in Psychiatry for Evernow, a digital menopause care startup, and serves on the advisory board for Kenneth Cole's Mental Health Coaltion.

Dr. Sharma completed her Psychiatry Residency at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center at Payne Whitney Clinic and her Internship in Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She holds a Medical Degree from Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a Master’s Degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School of Economics. She is a member of professional organizations and societies including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association and has received honors including the Faculty Council Resident Teaching Award during her residency in Psychiatry at Cornell and Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society in college. She has been an APA Fellow of the World Psychiatric Association’s Young Psychiatrist Council, a Bristol-Myers Squibb Public Psychiatry Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, and a Rosenbluth International Fellow at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Dr. Sharma is a mother of two children and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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