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How to talk about mental health at work

How to talk about mental health at work

Mental health in the workplace is a hot topic these days. Recent research suggests as many as 40% of workers feel their job is extremely stressful. Stress in the workplace is real, but there is some good news. Where there was once a negative stigma attached to it, now talking about mental health at work has helped normalize just how essential promoting mental health is for both employees and organizations. 

Creating a safe and healthy environment and discussing mental health in the workplace are essential first steps. When workplaces promote healthy discourse around mental well-being in conversation, everyone benefits — especially organizations that reap the reward of happy, healthy workers who feel valued and appreciated. A survey of more than 1,400 employees found that 3-in-5 people would stay at a job that offers more mental health services, which means the investment definitely can pay off. 

Read on to learn more about how to create a healthy, productive work environment that values talking about and prioritizing mental health.

1. Foster an open & supportive space

While it may seem overwhelming to create an atmosphere where employees feel safe and comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace, it really isn’t all that difficult. To accomplish this, it’s important to foster an open and supportive environment. Here are some ideas for how to support employees' mental health:

  • Encouraging open and candid communication. Use active listening techniques that allow employees to express their feelings and perspectives without fear of judgment or repercussion.
  • Design and implement opportunities for group discussions related to emotional well-being — for example, stress management techniques or mindfulness practices can be part of the work environment.
  • Create safe spaces throughout the office where people can go if they need downtime or space to refresh and reset. 

“Create a work environment of connection and authenticity and appreciation that inspires. Create a point of contact where employees can talk about stress and workload.” - Talkspace therapist  Famous Erwin, LMHC

2. Encourage disclosure and seeking help

A critical part of discussing mental health in the workplace stems from creating policies that encourage employees to seek help when needed. You can destigmatize mental health by creating safe and confidential environments people trust. 

Educating employees and offering them accurate information about mental health will encourage them to seek help. 

  • Create non-judgmental environments where employees can discuss their concerns about mental health.
  • Encourage managers to empathize, understand, and support when subordinates share their struggles.
  • Offer confidential support channels like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that ensure free access to counseling and therapy for employees.
  • Implement mental health first aid training to give designated employees the skills to recognize signs of stress and anxiety.
  • Incorporate anonymous reporting systems so employees can quickly and openly relay or disclose any concerns without fear.

3. Have managers check in with direct reports

An effective way to teach employees how to talk about mental health at work is by ensuring managers and supervisors regularly check in with direct reports. These check-ins can help build trust and allow superiors to recognize potential problems early on. Beyond that, they create space for employees to express concerns they might be having.

  • Ensure environments are comfortable and private so employees feel secure discussing sensitive topics.
  • Keep a regular schedule for meetings, so employees know when they’ll have the opportunity to share their thoughts or concerns.
  • Train supervisors to ask open-ended questions and inquire about personal and professional aspects of life.
  • Reassure employees that confidentiality is a given.

4. Listen with empathy

Make sure that any time an employee opens up or discusses a mental health concern, the response is empathetic and supportive. If employees trust a consistent and positive reaction, they’ll be more apt to open up and ask for help.

  • Make sure to acknowledge feelings appropriately. 
  • Validate emotions by using phrases like “I understand” or “This must be difficult” to convey genuine concern without judgment.
  • Be genuinely interested in what people are saying. Give employees your full attention and maintain eye contact. Avoid distractions like checking your phone or the time. 
  • Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Most people don’t want a solution when they open up — they’re looking for someone to validate their feelings or be present and supportive. 

5. Respond to employee mental health concerns

Responding properly is an absolute must when discussing mental health in the workplace. Make sure HR managers and supervisors know how to actively listen and that they understand the importance of offering help. 

  • Ask what is needed — don’t assume you know what someone needs, and be sure to ask what would most benefit the condition, situation, or experience. 
  • Offer resources that are aligned with the issues at hand. For example, if workplace stress or employee burnout is a concern, provide resources like yoga or workshops to help them relax. 
  • Remember, not all resources need to be internal. Outside organizations can be hugely beneficial. The following are reputable and valuable mental health resources you can refer people to: 
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
  • MentalHealth.gov
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
  • Follow up periodically after initial conversations. Staying engaged reinforces the idea that you care about your colleague and that progress, growth, and healing are the end-goals. 

“Encourage full use of PTO. Many employees don’t take their full time off and some work during time off. When employees take PTO they can return to work feeling invigorated and productive. Mental health is a good reason to take time off.”  - Talkspace therapist  Famous Erwin, LMHC

6. Promote mental health resources & benefits

Make sure resources and support are easy to access and readily available. Doing so empowers employees to take control of their mental health challenges while ensuring they feel supported and valued. 

  • Incorporate company policies into onboarding processes so the company’s stance on mental health is known from day 1. 
  • Create and promote mental health awareness campaigns highlighting the importance of mental healthcare in your organization. Emphasize how easy programs and resources are to access. 
  • Host workshops, initiatives, and webinars to share information and helpful topics like stress management, coping with anxiety, and using mindfulness. 
  • Distribute informational materials like posters, brochures, digital content, email newsletters, and more. 
  • Create a webpage that’s well-designed, written, optimized, and dedicated to mental health policies and resources as a main page on your website. 

Make mental health a priority in the workplace 

Creating a healthy workplace starts with knowing how to talk about mental health at work. The concept is essential for more than just employee well-being. It’s critical for overall success in today’s corporate landscape. You can effectively improve mental health in the workplace by partnering with online mental health platforms like Talkspace. Our innovative platform offers clinically proven solutions tailored specifically for organizations and their employees.

Access the support and resources you need to guarantee positive outcomes for employees and employers through:

  • Licensed therapists: Employees will have access to experienced, qualified mental health professionals who specialize in addressing and managing diverse mental health conditions and concerns.
  • Convenient options for communication: Talkspace ensures employees have a flexible way to communicate and gain access to mental health support. Text messaging, audio messaging, and video calls are all available according to individual preferences and needs.
  • Confidentiality and anonymity: Talkspace’s secure and confidential platform ensures complete privacy. Employees will feel comfortable and confident addressing their mental health concerns without fear of stigma or judgment.
  • Evidence-based treatment: All mental health professionals on the Talkspace platform are skilled and experienced in using evidence-based approaches. They regularly employ therapy modalities, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and more to ensure the most effective treatment outcomes for employees.

Talkspace makes it a priority to support organizations by fostering a culture of openness and encouraging a safe way to create dialogue surrounding mental health conversations in the workplace. Take proactive steps today to learn how to talk about mental health at work and establish a mentally healthy environment where employees feel valued, understood, and in the best frame of mind. This will ultimately lead to a productive, thriving workplace.

Sources:

  1. “Workplace Stress.” The American Institute of Stress, February 15, 2023. https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress
  2. “Workplace Stress: The Impact on Mental Health.” Talkspace. 2022. https://www.talkspace.com/research/stress-in-the-workplace

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