Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Workplace

happy employees

If you’ve felt more stressed out, anxious, or depressed this year, you’re not alone. A recent global study by Mind Share Partners in partnership with Qualtrics found that 42% of people have experienced a decline in their mental health since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

With almost half of adults in the world suffering more than ever, there should be more conversations about supporting mental health in the workplace than ever. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and for one reason: stigma.

While mental health is a more openly discussed topic in general today, there’s still a stigma around it in the workplace. Employees are burnt out, stressed and suffering from mental health issues but feel as though they can’t discuss it with their employer or that having mental health issues makes them a lesser employee.

It’s time for employers to take an active stand in breaking the stigma of mental health in the workplace to create an environment that promotes wellness and supports employees through any challenge they may face. Here are some immediate steps employers can take:

Lead by example

If your leadership team is comfortable doing so, sharing personal experiences with mental health is an impactful way to break down the stigma associated with these conversations.

Also, share the things you are doing to take care of your mental health -- and encourage others to do them too. You can share if you’re stepping out to talk a 20-minute walk or attend a therapy appointment and ask team members if they’d like to block out time on their calendars for that as well.

You can also set an example by taking PTO and not answering emails when you’re out of the office or outside of work hours, to set examples of healthy work boundaries.

Treat mental health like physical health

Most employers are open advocates for improving physical health and discuss methods for doing so in the office. For example, almost 60% of employers offer on-site flu shots, yet far more people suffer from a mental illness each year than from the flu.

Treating mental health like physical health means outwardly speaking about mental health issues that can arise and offering tools and strategies to prevent and combat them.

Build a culture of connection and acceptance

Company culture plays a crucial role in whether or not there’s a stigma around mental health in your workplace. In order for employees to feel like they can disclose their mental health struggles to you, you need to reach out to make a connection and let them know you are accepting of whatever they’re going through.

In addition to sharing your own experiences, you can schedule check-ins where you ask specific (yet non-invasive) questions about mental well-being and remind them of the resources available to them.

You can also introduce mental health days as a subcategory of paid time off and encourage them to be used by making their allotment monthly or quarterly. Set the tone by sharing when you will be taking your own mental health day, which shows it’s widely accepted to use them.

Bring mental health professionals into the workplace

Hosting a seminar or workshop led by a mental health professional tells your employees two things: 1. Mental health is not a topic that should be avoided in the workplace, and 2. You are here to support your employees’ mental health journey with professional resources

These workshops can handle topics ranging from stress management to anxiety/depression screenings, offering actionable insights and next steps to anyone who may need them.

Create a holistic workplace wellness program

Does your current wellness program address stress and mental health? If it doesn’t, or you currently don’t have a wellness program in place, this is a great opportunity to make a change. Try offering classes like meditation or discounted subscriptions to online therapy sites alongside your wellness benefits to create a more holistic package.

Among your company goals for 2021 should be to break the stigma around mental illness in the workplace. Now, more than ever, your employees need to feel supported and accepted for who they are, regardless of their struggles.