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May 11, 2021 Haeli Harris

How to Talk About Mental Health in the Workplace

Talking about mental health can be scary. What does mental health even mean? How do you start talking about mental health?

Talking about mental health in the workplace starts with you setting the example.

Why Talk About Mental Health in the Workplace?

Our culture has created an atmosphere where it is scary to talk about our struggles. When productivity, achievement, and steady emotions are valued, people are less likely to speak up for fear that they will be looking down upon – or even lose their jobs. The stigma is so strong that many people deny that they are struggling.

As a result, most people don’t receive treatment for their mental health struggles. At least 1 in 3 people struggled with mental illness during the pandemic, and the mental health impacts aren’t going anywhere. This is unacceptable – and employers are realizing that they have the opportunity to be part of the solution.

It’s not awkward unless you make it awkward. Most people struggle with mental health at some point in their life. It is normal.

What’s even more awkward is ignoring mental health in the workplace. The snowball effect kicks in, employees get burnt out, top talent leave, and the company falters – or even fails.

The dimensions of wellness – emotional, occupational, intellectual, physical… – all tie into our mental health.

Perhaps one of the easiest mental health topics to start with is stress. Everyone can relate to stress, and it isn’t as taboo to talk about it. Employees are more likely to say to you “I’m feeling stressed,” than “I have anxiety that makes it hard for me to focus on my work,” at the start. So if you’re looking for a starting place, stick with stress.

For more on the effects of mental health in the workplace, read: The Effects of Mental Health in the Workplace: What Employers Need to Know

How to Talk About Mental Health in the Workplace

Talk about your own experiences

In your one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, spend some time rapport building. When they ask how you’re doing, give them a tidbit of your experiences with mental health lately. Talk about how you’ve been feeling a bit stressed, but that going on walks helps. Eventually, employees will feel more comfortable talking about their own mental health.

You could also ask your employees, “What can I do to support you today? How is your mental health? How are you coping?”

Then listen.

Many employees are fearful that they will be judged – or even fired – if they speak up about their mental health. Take the initiative and talk about it yourself!

If employees are still timid, consider creating a space where people can talk about mental health resources and experiences online. You could create a group chat or channel in your instant messaging service where employees are encouraged to share their experiences, talk about things they’ve learned, and offer support to others.

Why is it so awkward to talk about mental health but not about being sick with a cold? Talk about it.

two business women meeting outside - how to talk about mental health in the workplace

Remember you’re not a therapist

Provide access to mental health resources. You don’t need to be the end-all-be-all for mental health discussions.

Don’t offer unsolicited advice, and don’t try to fix others. Most people can benefit from just knowing that someone is listening to them.

Consider talking about tools that have helped you with your own mental health. Something along the lines of: “Something that has helped me manage my stress is scheduling at least a 30-minute break for lunch every day to disconnect from work, nourish my body with healthy food, and take a short walk.” Validate their feelings, and provide reassurance where appropriate. Encourage self-care and help them find support.

You can do this in one-on-one meetings with employees, or even with your entire team.

Remember that you are not responsible for fixing anyone.

Minimizing the problem never helps – it can make things worse by causing the other person to feel guilt. Don’t take what they say personally, either. It can be an honor for someone to open up about their mental health struggles with you.

Direct people to mental health resources that could help them – like employee counseling, yoga, and meditation.

Know that the most common mental health issues are anxiety and depression.

Talking about mental health will increase the chances your employees will seek help.

Do wellness activities with your team

This is another great way to start creating a culture that prioritizes mental health. Wellness activities can include group yoga, meditation, journaling, cooking, painting, and fitness sessions.

During these activities, take time to get to know your employees on a more personal level. As these relationships grow, employees will be more likely to open up about their mental health challenges. Eventually, you can ask employees if these wellness activities or any other mental health initiatives are helpful to them.

Encourage healthy balance

Without proper rest, employee mental health and productivity will suffer. Encourage employees to take time off. Create the expectation that employees take breaks during the day and stop answering emails by a certain time of the day.

You can take this a step future by providing more work flexibility. Allow employees to work from home more (if they don’t already). Allow employees to take mental health days when they need them.

Creating a Culture that Puts Mental Health First

It’s a constant battle against the mental health stigma.

Once you learn how to talk about mental health in the workplace, you can start addressing it! You will gain a better understanding of the specific support your employees need.

27% of employees want mental health benefits to help them cope with stress, burnout, and other mental health issues. Common mental health benefits include therapy and fitness classes.

Addressing mental health in the workplace can make all the difference for your team’s productivity, culture, and morale. It all starts with talking about it!

For a deeper dive into talking about mental health with your direct reports, and supporting employee mental health in general, download the Manager Training Handbook.


Zenovate is the #un-eap – and you’ll see why! We are the ultimate workforce wellness platform.

We have a quick turnaround – we can get all your employees set up with us in 48 hours. It only takes minutes to set an appointment with a therapist or any Zenovate practitioner. Our utilization rates are the highest in the industry.

We will work with your company to prioritize mental health.

See how Zenovate can help support your employees. Request a demo today!

Disclaimer

By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Haeli Harris

Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Lead Counselor at Zenovate. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.

Licenses, Certifications & Memberships
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, UT
Registered Yoga Teacher 200
Trauma Conscious Yoga (2021)
Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

Education
Bachelor's of Science Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, University of Utah
Master's of Arts Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, Northcentral University

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