Mental Illness Awareness Week is recognized during the first week of October each year and uplifts the voices of the millions of Americans who face the reality of dealing with a mental health condition. One in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year while one in 20 experiences serious mental illness each year.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the most prevalent mental health conditions that impact Americans are:
- Anxiety disorders (estimated 48 million people)
- Major depressive episodes (estimated 19.4 million)
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (estimated 9 million)
- Bipolar disorder (estimated 7 million)
- Borderline personality disorder (estimated 3.5 million)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (estimated 3 million)
- Schizophrenia (estimated 1.5 million)
Mental health impacts everyone, either directly at an individual level or indirectly when impacted by the mental health of our family, friends, or coworkers. When it comes to promoting mental health in the workplace, there are a few measures company leaders can implement to make sure all employees have a psychologically safe environment in which to work.
Unfortunately, the topic of mental health remains very stigmatized nationwide. According to Sarah-Valin Bloom, LCSW and Head of Clinical Development at Eden Health, the workplace is often one of the environments where this stigma is most prevalent because it’s often the last place where people want to disclose mental or emotional struggles.
To make your workplace one where all employees can feel safe and cared for, Bloom recommends taking the following considerations into account:
THE CULTURE IS SET FROM THE TOP DOWN
In order to destigmatize mental health at work, leadership must be the ones who take the first steps toward normalizing those issues. “Building a culture of wellness as it relates to mental health is not about yoga, gym memberships, or meditation — those are all great perks,” explained Bloom. “They can help support coping skills, but they aren’t true mental health measures.” For employees to feel like their mental health is prioritized, leaders must make it known that taking an hour off for therapy, a mental health day, or even a medical leave of absence in order to deal with more intensive mental health issues are all okay.
Compassionate leadership might look like:
- Demonstrating genuine care and concern for employees through 1:1 interactions
- Leading by example — setting healthy work life boundaries, making therapy or other self-care activities visible on your calendar, etc.
- Creating an environment of psychological safety and trust, enabling employees to bring their whole self to work
- Encouraging employees who need more structure to build in work blocks and set a clear start and end to their work day
- Supporting managers to take care of themselves
Being mindful of the language that’s used in company meetings goes a long way toward building an inclusive, safe culture. Mental health colloquialisms can be off-putting to those impacted by mental illness. Terms like “bipolar” or “depression”, when used out of context, trivializes the challenges faced by people with these diagnoses.
ENCOURAGE OPEN DIALOGUE
When employees are able to share personal experiences or family stories in a way that’s natural, unscripted, and well-received, it signals that the workplace is a safe space and that being open and vulnerable is okay.
“Managers are on the front lines of mental health in the workplace,” said Bloom. Taking time to train managers to be sensitive, appropriate, maintain boundaries, and model healthy behaviors help managers in supporting direct reports. When you become a manager, you are not only responsible for the output of your team, but the wellbeing of your direct reports as it relates to workplace wellness — meaning you need to have an eye out for things like high stress and burnout among employees. “Understanding things like burnout not just when it’s happening, but what leads to it, can let managers intervene ahead of time so their direct reports don’t feel like they’re running on a hamster wheel with no end in sight,” Bloom advised.
THINKING CRITICALLY ABOUT YOUR BENEFITS
The mental health benefits you offer employees are key to the overall health of your employees. Do a deep dive on the resources you make available by reviewing:
- Access to mental healthcare (both insurance benefits and any free resources you can offer employees)
- Subsidizing the cost of mental health services through things like mental health copay reimbursement
- Self-guided apps or other less traditional resources you can make available
- How you can better integrate mental health into new manager and leadership training
- Total health benefits (because the mind and body are connected)
Want to know how Eden’s integrated care model betters the overall health of your employees? Learn more about our mental health services.