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7 Ways to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

Depression and anxiety cause an estimated loss of 12 billion working days every year, resulting in over one trillion dollars of lost productivity annually.

As a result, mental health disorders are a primary cause of disability in the workplace. These staggering metrics highlight how critical the need has become for employers to recognize and support their employees who face mental health challenges.

Historically, mental health challenges have been viewed negatively and largely stigmatized. The Unites States media still sensationalizes ‘mental breakdowns’ and misrepresents individuals facing psychological needs of all kinds. Public fanfare has rarely focused on the intricate needs of an individual by looking to the whole person, including their environment, biological and sociological conditions.

Unfortunately, this limited view serves only to further the stigma surrounding mental health conditions and causes those in treatment to fear anyone finding out, especially their employer.

Recent studies show a much broader perspective. For example, there are connections between gut health imbalances and mood disorders, and these imbalances can cause a range of ailments, including psychological challenges.

By educating employees about mental health conditions and normalizing experiences, organizations can make strides toward destigmatizing mental health conditions within an organization. To truly address such a widespread problem, employers must create a safe, judgment-free environment where all employees feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves, and this includes ensuring freedom from repercussion or humiliation in disclosing mental health challenges.

Employers have a responsibility to provide support to all employees by creating a safe space for those experiencing mental health challenges, but it can be challenging to know where to begin. Here are seven best practices for supporting mental health in the workplace:

1. Consider your organizational support and policies

Culture can make or break a team, and the culture of an organization is directly influenced by the policies that are encouraged and upheld. Consider establishing policies around the following:

  • Employees’ ability to balance or integrate their work and personal lives
  • Time off for preventative care and a break for mental wellness
  • Boundaries around communications during unplugged hours
  • Reasonable accommodations and leave of absence
  • Use of stigma-free language

2. Foster an inclusive environment

In today’s workforce, employees’ expectations have changed: employees are seeking organizations where they feel they belong and are accepted for their authentic selves. To foster a sense of belonging, tap into your local leaders and managers and ensure your organization is promoting psychological safety for all employees. By doing so, employees are more likely to share when they are struggling or experiencing mental health challenges.

3. Communicate your benefits and resources clearly

Investing in behavioral health services is critical to supporting employees across the spectrum of wellbeing, but choosing where and how much to invest can be overwhelming. Start by ensuring you strategically communicate the benefits that are already in place.

4. Become a knowledgeable resource

As a leader, one of your greatest tools is awareness. Become aware of all of the benefits and resources available to your employees, including your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), potential referral options for therapists, and any community resources. Also, know how to reach your local mental health emergency services. Be ready to share these resources as needed.

5. Work to break the stigma around mental health

In the past few years, mental health challenges have become much more normalized in the workplace. However, it is important to remember that mental health conditions are often long-term conditions that individuals must navigate on a daily basis.

Just like other chronic diseases, individuals with mental health conditions must actively manage their day-to-day habits and commit to ongoing clinical care. Find out if there are any accommodations that can be provided to an employee needing mental health support and set the example by openly sharing about stressors or other challenges in your own life.

6. Invest in additional mental health support

Access to mental health care has been historically limited. In the past few years, organizations have begun to invest in solutions that can provide easy-to-access care with on-demand therapy whether through virtual telehealth solutions, or comprehensive behavioral health platforms.

Beyond that, managers can ensure employees that their concerns are confidential, helping employees to feel secure. Additionally, active listening, clear communication, and tangible follow ups are crucial to helping employees know they are supported.

7. Avoid "Wellbeing Washing"

Many organizations have high hopes of building an organizational culture that promotes a sense of belonging and motivates employees to work hard. Yet, at the end of the day, a focus on business performance and the bottom line often outweighs efforts to care for employee wellbeing. Even well-intended efforts by innovative employers fall flat without the strategy and infrastructure to follow through on the support of these initiatives.

When organizations promote a culture of care and do not back it up with anything tangible, employees are left feeling unsupported and tend to burn out much faster. To avoid this, clearly articulate to your employees the expectations and outcomes of your plans, ideally in writing and include how the expectations will be measured. Read more about how to prevent wellbeing washing.

For more ways to support the wellbeing of your workforce, familiarize yourself with Six Employee Wellbeing and Performance Trends for 2023.