Talking about mental health at work is important because the success of a business lies within the abilities of its employees. We hear people talk about physical health all the time – between calling in for sick days, leaving for doctor’s appointments, and making sure employees have access to health insurance benefits. However, mental health has a sort of stigma attached to it. We all know it exists, and many of us suffer from a mental health condition as well, but we don’t talk about it at work. Maybe it’s because we want to be professional. Or, maybe it’s just because we wouldn’t want others to think less of us.
Sadly, ignoring the topic of mental health at work doesn’t do a business any good. It leaves co-workers to suffer in silence, contributes to low productivity, and cultivates misunderstandings in the workplace. If employees aren’t taking care of themselves, how can they effectively manage their tasks at work? How can they be the best employee they can be if they aren’t in a good place mentally?
At my last job, mental health wasn’t something we spoke about. I worked long hours with a demanding boss who failed to show an ounce of empathy. I found myself overworked, stressed out, and dreading work each day. On days where I would take PTO or request time off, I was met with disapproval by my boss – because there was always more work to be done. I hated my job. I resented it. We could never keep employees, and finding new ones was even harder. After moving on to a new job, I realized that the main reason I hated my job so much was that I was expected to function as a robot – not a human being. My emotions and mental health simply didn’t matter to the money-hungry powers that be. In the end, it took a toll on me. That’s why it’s so important to talk about mental health.
Supporting Mental Health Develops a Culture of Acceptance
Suffering from a mental illness can be isolating. Working in an environment that is toxic to your mental health is even worse. Toxic work environments can lead otherwise healthy people to begin suffering from anxiety or depression. Instead, supporting mental health in the workplace helps create a culture of acceptance – and one that thrives.
Mental health is a tough topic to talk about on the job, but employers can make an impact by opening the lines of communication. When your workplace provides resources and promotes awareness around mental health, you not only open the dialogue, but you lay the foundation for a workplace that is supportive of mental health care. Most importantly, open communication about mental health lets your employees know that its okay to ask for help, take a day off, or do what needs to be done to stay healthy.
While people with mental illness are expected to meet the same goals and productivity levels as their counterparts, it makes things more difficult if you are working with a company that isn’t conducive to mental health. My old boss could physically see that I was overworked and over-stressed, but she failed to see how toxic our work environment was. The expectations weren’t clear, there was no room for growth, and my coworkers and I faced constant criticism. The toxicity of this workplace was so powerful that employees would come and go, leaving me with extra stress to constantly train new people. I felt overworked and undervalued, but I never felt like I could express this to my boss. I was afraid of being judged and scolded, making for a place that made my mental health decline even more.
It Improves the Productivity and Health of Employees
Mental illness is challenging to deal with. Nearly 1 in every 5 Americans suffers from a mental health condition. As a result, many workplaces have employees who have a mental illness – whether they know it or not. On the other hand, even people who don’t have a diagnosable mental illness may have days where they are feeling overly emotional, tired, overworked, and stressed. That’s why, as leaders, it’s important for bosses and executives to get in touch with their own mental health status. When you use your empathy, experiences, and emotions to connect with your employees or coworkers, you are showing a more authentic version of yourself. This can be a vulnerable experience, but it lets your peers know that you are human, too, and that it’s okay to talk about things that are bothering you or wearing on you. Evidence shows that being authentic and open at work paves the way for better work performance, employee engagement and retention, and overall well-being.
Clearly, I left my old job because it wasn’t a healthy environment, and I’m not alone. Some of the most talented people in the world have a mental illness, but when workplaces aren’t supportive of mental health, that talent will leave and go elsewhere. Do you want to improve your company culture and attract more productive employees that will stay? Talk about mental health at work. Be transparent and let your employees know you care about them. Then, watch how your workplace and the work ethic of your employees improve.
Talking About Mental Health Breaks the Stigma
When I began going to therapy for depression, my therapist told me all of these things – such as, “depression is nothing to be ashamed of” or “depression isn’t a weakness.” However, I was never made to feel that way at my old job. If I had a bad day, I felt like I just had to push through it and fake a smile. My coworkers would talk about people who suffer from mental illness in negative ways. For example, they would label people as “crazy,” “bipolar,” or “whiney.” Mental health wasn’t a topic of conversation, as we were expected to look good, act right, and put on a smile no matter what. The truth is, you never know when the person sitting next to you is suffering in silence.
Having a corporate culture that is positive, empathetic, and all-inclusive makes for happier employees. It also prevents people from isolating themselves from others and feeling as though they don’t fit in at work. When you talk about mental health, provide resources, and create a more positive workplace, you create an environment that is supportive to everyone.
Talking about mental health at work doesn’t have to start with employers. You can be the change by stepping up and developing an open dialogue about mental health issues. While you never know who is suffering, you also never know who you can help by sharing your own experiences. All it takes is one employee to open the conversation around mental health to begin establishing a more supportive, inclusive workplace.
Image is pixabay creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Alicia Haggard is a freelance writer and health advocate for Executive Medicine of Texas. She has a B.S. in Health Sciences, loves creative writing, and hiking with her dog.