Starting the Conversation

World Mental Health Day was yesterday, which makes this the perfect time to start the conversation in your workplace about mental health.

world-mental-health-day

What is Mental Health?

Before we can begin the conversation about mental health, let’s dive into understanding mental health and the stigma surrounding it. At a general level, mental health can be defined as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” It directly relates to how we think, feel, and behave. Most common of the mental health conditions are anxiety, mood, and schizophrenia disorders, according to Medical News Today. Mental health problems, which can be diagnosed at any point in our lives, have the ability to affect every aspect of your life, but especially in the workplace. According to the World Health Organization, we spend one-third of our adult life at work, which can be a source of happiness and satisfaction, but also stress and anxiety at times. In fact, a quarter of Americans say work can be the root of their mental health issues.

So, Why the Stigma?

Despite 25% of Americans suffering from a mental illness due to work, eight of 10 report that “shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Largely derived from the fact that there is a widespread lack of education regarding mental health and mental illnesses, it is often assumed that someone affected by a mental illness is merely being “irresponsible, lazy, or dangerous.” People fear disclosing any details about their illnesses because these qualities could become associated with them. In turn, this could open the door for colleagues and management to view them as incompetent employees.

One of the most important ways we can break down the negative stigma surrounding mental health is to talk about it. At times, it might feel awkward or inappropriate, but there are some great ways to beat the stigma and make a difference for mental health, without becoming too intrusive. Try these helpful tips when discussing mental health with coworkers, employees and yourself.

Talking to … Yourself

Perhaps the most important person in this conversation is yourself. You can only begin to feel secure talking about this subject once you have analyzed your own personal mental health. If you, like 20% of adults today, suffer from a mental health condition, reach out to the resources you feel will help the most. Sometimes it’s a coworker or boss, sometimes it’s a family member or friend, and sometimes it’s someone completely out of your personal circle, such as a mental health counselor.

Don’t feel guilty or ashamed of how you’re feeling, but do try to seek out assistance. Whatever you choose is perfectly acceptable as long as it aids you in finding the help you need. Our mental health goes beyond mental illness, and everyone can take steps to preserve their mental health. Sleep, health, and exercise are all vital elements to a healthy mind and body. Pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you before you reach out to others.

Talking to … Employees

According to the Fortune.com, approximately 43.8 million adults in America experience mental illnesses in a year. However, only 41% of those adults have received the help they needed! Often the aforementioned negative stigma pervades many workplaces. Leaders in the workplace can break down these walls by helping employees feel comfortable approaching them with this information, especially if they believe it is negatively impacting their work. That being said, the best thing you can do for your employees is to educate yourself. Learn about the resources available, how to appropriately discuss them, and extra steps you can take to ensure the best mental health for your employees. Reinforce with each employee that it is a judgment-free zone if and when they choose to discuss their mental health.

Talking to … Coworkers

Maybe you don’t have the status in your workspace to completely implement new mental health resource programs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an effect throughout the office. Encourage fellow coworkers to participate in any educational programs available to them. If these don’t exist, there are still options! Suggest activities both in and outside of the office that can help foster a strong relationship among co-workers. This camaraderie will ensure they have support if they ever need to speak to someone. In fact, studies show that having friends at work can improve employee happiness and morale.

In addition, take the time to recognize your colleagues when they’ve done some great work. Some companies offer a designated program for this (like PerkSpot’s Rewards & Recognition), but if yours doesn’t, something as simple as a handwritten note or e-card sending your appreciation could help in boosting someone’s self-esteem and mood!

Beginning the discussion about mental health can be difficult, but it’s absolutely vital to your employees’ overall health and wellness. Not only that, but it can also impact your company’s productivity and employee engagement. Creating an environment that makes your employees feel comfortable and welcome is of the utmost importance. While you can use World Mental Health Day to start the conversation, remember it’s something you should continue to talk about all year long.

About Amy Ridder

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