For many Americans, managing both mental health and work is a daily struggle. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses are very common, yet there is still a stigma surrounding these conditions. Many workers do not want their
#1. Encourage Mental Health Days
“Taking a mental health day” has often been used as a euphemism for not feeling like going into work and taking a spontaneous day off — making the stigma greater for those who have a legitimate need for mental health days. As an employer, you can encourage employees who need to take the occasional day off for mental health reasons, like Madelyn Parker. When Parker, a web developer, took a mental health day, her boss thanked her for helping to break down the stigma of mental health.
Your company and your leaders have a big impact on reducing the stigma of mental illness and can help everyone feel more comfortable in the office. Studies have shown that leaders can influence workplace comfort and job engagement by as much as 70%, so a good place to start is by educating your leaders on why mental health days are important, and how to start breaking down the stigma surrounding them. Many people need these days to visit a therapist or recover from a panic attack, and can help improve happiness and comfort.
#2. Make Mental Health Help Anonymous or Confidential
Many people are afraid to even bring up mental illness at work, for fear of discrimination or worse. It’s an unfortunate reality — despite the fact that depression costs businesses between $17 and $44 billion dollars a year in lost productivity, many organizations are still not willing to help employees with mental illness, and sometimes even let people go for missing work or other problems related to mental illness. If you think some of your employees are too worried to talk directly about what they’re going through, offer anonymous or confidential help.
Make sure health plans offer therapy and mental health services, and try offering flexible scheduling to give your employees time to seek help or take care of their mental health when they need to, without having to explain what they’re doing.
Whatever you do, don’t try to treat mental illness in your employees. It’s completely inappropriate, and unless you’re a counselor or psychologist, you’re almost certainly not qualified to give that advice. Instead, be prepared to give referrals and support employees in any way you can. Get to know the warning signs of common mental illnesses so you can reach out if you think an employee may be struggling, but know the limits of what you yourself can provide by way of assistance.
#4. Be Willing to Adjust to ADA Accommodations
ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act, and it’s something that employers need to pay attention to. People with mental illness fall under the ADA, and accommodating for them should be part of your organizational policies. Shari Harding, Professor of Nursing at Regis College in Massachusetts, noted the importance of this in a Psychology Today article saying, “Often, minor modifications to school or work environments can make a big difference when it comes to a person’s ability to thrive in those places.”
So how do you accommodate and help your employees feel more comfortable in the office? Ask what they need to be happy and productive! If you need to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones or change the way desks are organized, for example, those are changes that can be made quickly, without much disruption or expense. Everyone has different needs — you just need to ask what those needs are.
#4. Be An Advocate for Opening Up About Mental Health
Although dialogue about mental health has been opening up in the last few years, the subject is still viewed as taboo in many offices. Employees may feel unsure about whether or not they can or should discuss the subject at work, which can be a barrier to making everyone feel comfortable and supported. Be an advocate for opening up about mental health, and make it clear that if employees want to discuss the subject or talk about accommodations, the door is always open.
Encouraging an open dialogue surrounding mental health and mental illness can be a powerful force for good in the office. Once people start sharing their experiences, everyone starts to feel more comfortable and the stigma starts to fall away. Encourage sharing and respectful discussion, but always offer anonymous assistance to those who don’t feel comfortable talking about what they’re going through.
#5. Create an Employee Wellness Program
Aside from encouraging breaks and limiting overwork, employers can help improve the wellness and mental health of everyone in the organization by setting up a robust wellness program. Sponsored gym memberships, office chair massages, access to a nutritionist, yoga classes in the office—all of these health and wellness programs help everyone reduce stress, and often, manage mental illness such as depression. Participants in one study on the link between yoga and depression saw a drop of 50% or more in depression levels after 3 months or more of regular practice. Those who did more classes saw greater benefits. These simple wellness programs can make a big difference in mental health, and they’re a wonderful way to help your employees stay happy and healthy.
#6. Make Mental Health Awareness a Part of Company Culture
Ongoing awareness and education is key for ensuring all employees are treated with respect by their peers and management alike. Make the occasional mandatory seminar on mental health and substance abuse part of your wellness programs (bribe with lunch if necessary!). If you avoid talking about mental illness within your organization, employees who have their own mental health concerns might choose to keep quiet, rather than risk being stigmatized.
Normalizing discussions about mental health is an ongoing effort, since everyone will need periodic refreshers and new employees will come and go. Seminars and initiatives should always be intended to raise awareness and help employees get help if needed, never to embarrass or shame anyone. Keep in mind that these initiatives don’t just help people with known mental illness—they can help every employee maintain their mental health, and can help other employees determine whether or not they should seek help.