Look around you—in the break room, in a conference room, or in any other work setting. There’s a good chance many of your colleagues are struggling with a mental health issue without your knowing.
We all experience common life stressors where we struggle with our mental health—from work stress to relationship issues to losing a loved one. Additionally, many of us will be diagnosed with a mental health condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five Americans will experience a mental health condition in a given year.
Yet not everyone feels comfortable talking about these things, and even those who do may not know how to talk about mental health at work.
Fortunately, the tide is turning. When the pandemic forced mental health to the forefront of the national conversation, people started paying attention—including employers. Our 2022 State of Workforce Mental Health report found that in 2021, more than a third of employees (36 percent) said their company had discussions about mental health “with all employees in open forums.” That’s up from just one in five employees in 2020.
But we still have a long way to go. “If you broke your leg, you’d probably have no problem talking to your manager about your challenges, the support you need, and even your doctor appointments. We can take steps to help people feel comfortable talking about their mental health in the same way,” says Dr. Kendall Browne, program manager, workforce transformation at Lyra.
Lyra’s report reveals an important shift in attitudes on talking about mental health in the workplace. The number of employees who talked about mental health at work nearly doubled from 23 percent in 2020 to 43 percent in 2021. And 51 percent of employees now report feeling comfortable bringing up their mental health challenges with both managers and peers—especially if they believe their employers care about their well-being.
That’s why it’s so important to normalize—and prioritize—mental health conversations. When we do, we send a powerful message that it is OK to share when you are struggling with your mental health and seek the support you need. It starts with company-wide communications and having leaders and managers model that it’s safe to talk about mental health at work.
According to Dr. Browne, “Feeling able to acknowledge a struggle or ask for help without being penalized creates a psychologically safe workplace. This can create an environment where you not only feel safe sharing when you are struggling but you feel able and willing to seek the support you need to function well at work and at home.”
Creating a culture of open dialogue about mental health is essential for a healthy workplace. It starts with a top-down commitment to creating a safe and open space for these conversations. The following strategies can help:
Don’t be afraid to over-communicate about the benefits you provide. If people don’t know these programs exist, they can’t get the help they need. Just 10 percent of employees who said they were “not sure” about the employer-provided mental health resources available to them also said they sought mental health care, compared to 40 percent of workers who said their employer provides a wide range of resources that “completely address” their mental health needs.
Be sure to have a panel of providers who are taking new clients, don’t have long waiting lists, and are affordable. Also, include providers with diverse backgrounds and specialties to address your employees’ mental health needs; otherwise, people may forgo getting the help they need.
Show you value mental health as much as you do hard work, achievement, and your other company values. Recognize employees and managers whose actions improve the work experience and support mental health.
It’s important to normalize the conversation around mental health and demonstrate that your leaders are committed to employee well-being. Have proactive mental health check-ins at the beginning of one-on-ones and team meetings. Ask your employees how they’re doing and how they’re feeling—and invite them to talk about anything they’re comfortable sharing.
This can be done by sharing their own mental health challenges and how they coped, talking publicly about taking paid time off (PTO) or time for self-care, and not working in the evenings or on weekends—modeling that this behavior is encouraged.
Provide information in newsletters and other company communications, set up a mental health portal, and create ongoing mental health awareness campaigns, including trainings, workshops, internal videos, and more.
These designated employees can promote healthy dialogue as well as mental health wellness and support resources.
This is essential for creating a safe and welcoming culture, yet many people may be unaware of how what they say can shut down conversations. Focus on education, inclusivity, and avoiding hurtful language.
The growing mental health crisis can no longer be ignored. Eighty-four percent of our survey respondents experienced at least one mental health challenge over the past year, ranging from stress and burnout to diagnosable conditions like depression, insomnia, and PTSD.
Yet not everyone who needs care recognizes it. By talking openly about mental health issues, increasing mental health literacy, and modeling healthy behavior, we can create workplaces where everyone feels comfortable seeking the support and care they need. “The more we talk about mental health in the workplace, the less strange it becomes, and, over time, the less stigmatized it becomes as well,” says Steve Boese, president and co-founder at H3 HR Advisors.
You can learn more about protecting and supporting the mental health of your employees in our 2022 State of Workforce Mental Health report.
If you want help connecting with a coach or therapist, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.