How to Address Mental Health in the Workplace

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide deal with depression and anxiety. Since the pandemic, the number of people struggling with mental health issues has skyrocketed. Mental health stigma keeps many from seeking treatment until their symptoms are too overwhelming to ignore. That means a lot of people are suffering when they shouldn’t have to.

Highlighting mental health in the workplace this month as part of Mental Health Awareness Month is critical to getting rid of the stigma around mental illness. Silence is part of the problem, so we’re entering the conversation.

Mental health problems are treatable if help is available and employees feel it’s safe to pursue treatment. Employers play a crucial role in connecting employees to resources, and in working to facilitate a healthy work environment. Employees don’t need to feel powerless either – sometimes change begins at the grassroots level.

More than ever, improving mental health in the workplace is essential for both employee and employer. We’ll look at the main reasons employers should prioritize employee mental health, and strategies they can use. We’ll also explore what employees can do to improve their own work environment and mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The non-profit organization Mental Health America (MHA) has been putting a spotlight on mental health issues every May since 1949. In the spirit of spreading awareness and improving education about the basics of mental health in the workplace, we’re taking time today to talk about this important issue affecting everyone.

Despite widespread mental health difficulties in the workplace, not enough employers address the problem, and many attempted solutions aren’t effective. Improving workplace well-being has benefits beyond merely helping employees improve their mental health.

Let’s go over the major reasons why investing in better mental health is vital – yes, even to a company’s bottom line.

Group of five people holding hands in a sunny field

What Is Mental Health and Why Is It Important for Employers?

Mental health is the official term for a person’s social, emotional, and psychological well-being. Mental health affects every aspect of your life; it’s never confined to just your work life or your home life. The flip side of this is also true – every aspect of your life at home and work affects your mental health.

In the workplace, the term mental health simply refers to an employee’s psychological well-being. Caring about employee well-being is the number one reason to prioritize mental health. Still, supporting employees’ mental health makes a dramatic difference to a company’s financial picture as well.

Poor mental health affects job performance and productivity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 250 million people globally suffer from depression, and mental illness costs the world economy around $1 trillion dollars per year just from lost productivity. These are startling numbers.

It’s not all bad news, though. The WHO also estimates that each $1 invested in mental health returns $4 in better health and productivity. A recent McKinsey survey even showed employees on leave for mental health reasons were more likely to return to supportive employers, and missed fewer days of work overall.

COVID’s Impact on Mental Health

Burnout is real and not just among front-line medical workers. We all remember the trauma of Spring 2020, and that was just the beginning. No worker, family member, or citizen has escaped the reach of COVID-19’s psychological toll.

Workplace mental health was already concerning before the pandemic, but COVID’s upheaval added to everyday stresses in an unsustainable way. Social isolation, economic uncertainty, and fear of getting sick were just some of the added stresses of the pandemic. These stresses increased anxiety and depression by 25% worldwide from pre-pandemic levels. In some countries, the effects were even worse.

In the workplace, workers worldwide had to cope with the new challenges of lockdown in isolation and adjusting to full-time remote work. Today, many companies have returned to in-person work, but some adverse effects remain on our psychological health.

Word tiles spelling the word anxiety.

Suffering in the Workplace

Twenty percent of adults in the US reported suffering from mental illness–and that was before the pandemic. Given this staggering number, it’s vital that we raise mental health awareness in the workplace. People spend much of their waking hours in the workplace, so it’s strategically positioned to connect those suffering with tools and support to ease their mental health burdens.

Mental health stigma keeps many from seeking treatment, so their symptoms continue to worsen over time. The average lag between the onset of symptoms and treatment is 8 to 10 years. That’s a really long time for a person to suffer. Creating a pro-mental health working environment is key to squashing the stigma so people will get help sooner.

The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially suited to addressing mental health in the workplace. Thankfully, employers have many tools to encourage a happy and healthy workforce.

Letter board spelling “I see a light in the darkness.

How to Address Mental Health in the Workplace

Although it’s really unfortunate that so many people have suffered to get to the point where many employers are ready to address their employees’ mental health needs, the future can be much brighter. Employers and employees can do many things to start improving mental health in the workplace right now.

What Employers Can Do to Address Mental Health in the Workplace

Every employer should aim to build a pro-mental health workplace where workers feel psychologically safe. Creating an environment where workers can speak openly about their experiences helps remove mental health stigma and improves overall workplace well-being.

It’s also crucial to provide resources to address problems, like anonymous mental health self-assessment surveys. These surveys help identify overall workplace mental health problem areas, and can solicit suggestions to improve the office environment. Privacy is critical, so the survey shouldn’t identify individual employees.

Another important step is increasing flexibility. Why? The WHO cites inflexible working hours and limited decision-making power as risk factors for mental health problems. Going partially remote or shifting expectations from hours worked to deliverables provides employees with independence and demonstrates trust.

Adopting organizational practices that support work-life balance helps foster positive mental health at work. While giving employees time off may seem like a loss for the employer, it actually benefits everyone. Many countries with longer vacation time are among the most productive. Of the top 10 most productive countries, 9 were in Europe where giving workers 20+ paid vacation days per year is commonplace.

These examples are just a starting point for employers to improve the working environment. Private companies, and even governments, have plenty of freedom to explore research and come up with ways to foster better mental health among employees. Here are some further suggestions, though many more are worth considering:

    • ✅ Train and certify managers to support staff mental health.
    • ✅ Hold educational workshops to foster a pro-mental health environment.
    • ✅ Offer meditation classes.
    • ✅ Encourage employees to form mental health support groups.
    • ✅ Expand healthcare benefits to include mental health.
    • ✅ Offer employees mental health days.

What Employees Can Do to Address Mental Health in the Workplace

Too often we put our mental health last, so we end up feeling burned out and terrible. Your mental health matters, so it’s important to prioritize it as much as your physical health. In the workplace, mental health is emerging as an issue that can no longer be ignored.

The pandemic was a revelation for workers who realized the value of more time with family, friends, and hobbies. Workers are increasingly prioritizing their own mental health, and the current job market reflects this. They’re leaving for new jobs offering better benefits like remote work to gain back valuable time lost to the commute.

Sometimes you can still make meaningful changes, even without making a drastic move. Think about the stress points in your workday. You may find you can make a change in your routine or have a conversation with your manager that can lift some burdens. If privacy-invasive software is affecting your mental health at work, consider speaking to your manager about it and asking them to judge your performance based on deliverables.

A pro-mental health office is one where people feel comfortable talking about their mental health. When you’re at the office, show support to your colleagues to help build a supportive and caring environment. This support could range from displaying a blue dot sticker for maternal mental health to creating a peer-listening support group.

It’s crucial to separate your work self from your personal self. You need to unwind and perhaps unplug once you get home. If the technology you’re using is affecting your mental well-being, you could consider taking a digital detox, a break from social media, or even leave a platform you notice adds stress and anxiety to your life. Here are a few more ideas to try:

    • 🎯 Take a walk during your lunch break.
    • 🎯 Use a meditation app before you start your day.
    • 🎯 Find a physical activity you enjoy – exercise can reduce stress.
    • 🎯 Start journaling to move your worries from your mind onto paper.
    • 🎯 Get involved in your community.
    • 🎯 Talk to a friend about your problems and listen to theirs.
    • 🎯 Plan your next vacation – even if you’re just brainstorming.

Mental Health Quotes to Consider

“It’s time to tell everyone who’s dealing with a mental health issue that they’re not alone, and that getting support and treatment isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength” – Former First Lady Michelle Obama
“Remember that work and life coexist. Wellness at work follows you home and vice versa” – Wellness Author Melissa Steginus
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” – Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers)
“I found that with depression, one of the most important things you can realize is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it, you’re not gonna be the last to go through it” – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Keep the Mental Health Conversation Going

Letter board spelling “Self Care isn’t selfish.  

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that mental health isn’t a luxury. Mental health is essential in private life and in the workplace – and what we do in one area affects the other. That means we can’t afford to neglect mental health in the workplace.

Thankfully, the topic is becoming normalized by more public conversations, and many employers and employees have already taken inspiring steps to create a pro-mental health workplace.

Still, given how many people are dealing with mental illness, we can do a lot more to improve the situation. It’s time to end mental health stigma and make the workplace a compassionate and safe place.

Disclaimer

We’re not mental health professionals but merely individuals concerned with the state of mental health in the workplace. This article is for informational value only and does not constitute medical or psychological advice.

You should always make serious decisions affecting your mental health with the help of a mental health professional.

If you’re currently experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact a professional right away. If you are having a suicidal crisis, in the USA contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (the Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you’re outside of the USA, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

FAQ

Is mental health important in a workplace?

Yes! Mental health should always be taken seriously. Societal sigma pushes many people with mental health issues to suffer for years before seeking treatment. Unaddressed, employee mental health issues can cause severe consequences for productivity and employee turnover, not to mention the personal costs.

Does privacy-invasive software impact mental health?

Yes. While employers might be tempted to always keep an eye on workers, privacy-invasive software damages employees’ mental health. They feel watched, and it shows a poor level of trust in their character and abilities.

Since low autonomy and inflexibility contribute to adverse mental health outcomes, employers might want to consider dropping the software and instead focus on deliverables due by specific deadlines.

If your employer keeps close tabs on your traffic, consider getting CyberGhost VPN. Simply connect to a secure CyberGhost server and it’ll encrypt your data and reroute it through a secure VPN tunnel. That way your activity stays private.

How do you address mental health in the workplace?

Addressing mental health in the workplace takes many forms. The most crucial thing is setting up a framework to support mental health in the office. This may include creating a mechanism for employees to anonymously report on their mental health and having resources ready to address these issues as soon as they emerge.

Ask employees in an anonymous survey what would improve the workplace environment. Flexible working styles like remote working or flexible hours can also improve employee mental health. Finally, workers might be burned-out and simply need a break.

What are some mental health issues people face in the workplace?

Stress is a part of most jobs. But when it’s overwhelming or never stops, it can wreak havoc on employee well-being. Left untreated, this can lead to mental health issues including anxiety and depression.

Stress caused by work demands isn’t the only factor affecting mental health when it comes to the workplace. Bullying and a lack of decision power over working conditions all negatively affect mental health.

How do you work with employees with mental illness?

You never know who’s dealing with mental illness, so it’s best practice to always show empathy towards your colleagues. If someone seems like they may be struggling, reach out and ask how they’re doing. Try to include them, but be understanding if they decline.

If you’re a manager, try to create an environment of psychological safety. Provide mental health resources like anonymous pulse surveys and counseling services.

Consider allowing time off work to recover. Follow up occasionally while they’re gone to show you care. When you welcome them back see what workplace adjustments you can make to improve their mental health.

How do you create a healthy workspace that protects mental health?

Creating a mentally healthy workplace requires prioritizing current mental health issues using resources like time off, support groups, educational initiatives, and more.

Fostering a compassionate culture where workers can talk openly about their struggles goes a long way toward helping employees feel psychologically safe. You may consider time off for burned-out employees before they experience further mental health consequences.

Other ideas to help prevent mental health problems: designate an employee to oversee mental health in the workplace, and regularly send out anonymous pulse surveys to follow up on employee well-being and to measure the effects of your improvements.

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