Mental health — which includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being — affects every aspect of our personal and professional lives. In the past, mental health was a taboo subject in the workplace, but these attitudes are now changing significantly.
The last few years have been marked by collective trauma and stress, and factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and political unrest have made it nearly impossible for employers and employees to ignore the effects of mental health problems. More people report experiencing mental health challenges, but more people are also talking about mental health at work — which is helping to normalize and destigmatize it.
According to Mental Health First Aid, a program run by the nonprofit National Council for Mental Wellbeing, we spend roughly one-third of our adult lives working:
Many workplaces have a defibrillator and have trained their employees in how to use it. They know how to summon emergency help for a physical ailment. But you are much more likely to see someone in the throes of a mental health or addiction crisis than you are to see someone having a heart attack.
byYou can help build a safe and respectful workplace that supports the mental health of your employees following the three steps of mental health first aid:
Step 1: Identify
Learn to look for indications that an employee is struggling with their mental health. Educate your team about signs and symptoms, including:
- Lack of concentration
- Decreased productivity
- Sleep problems
- Irritability or tearfulness
Your role isn’t to diagnose or treat mental illness, but you can create a safe environment for employees to talk about mental health challenges and direct them to resources available, such as an employee assistance program or counseling covered by health insurance.
Step 2: Connect
The person who is struggling may not want to ask for help for a variety of reasons, like feeling embarrassed, alone, or afraid.
You and other colleagues might hesitate to voice your concerns because you don’t want to violate their privacy or boundaries, or you simply don’t know what to say. But it’s important that you try to connect and show them you are there to support them. You may not find exactly the right words, but anything helps.
Step 3: Understand
Try to understand what your employee is going through, and work with them to figure out the next steps.
A simple conversation — beginning with something like, “It seems like you’re having a hard time right now. I care, and I’m here to listen. How can I help?” — is a good start. Give them opportunities to share their experiences, without judgment or repercussions. Validate their feelings, and remind them that mental illnesses are common and treatable. Make sure they know about the mental health programs available to them, in your organization and community, and connect them with the information, guidance, and support they need.
We believe happier and healthier people are the biggest driver behind a thriving business. This blog post is part of our Heart of the Business initiative and our ongoing commitment to delivering health and wellness content to support healthy employees, and in turn, healthy businesses.