Mental Health Month: 3 tips for the workplace

Unaddressed mental health issues can create larger problems in the workplaceAndrea Piacquadio

May is Mental Health Awareness month. The goal, established in 1949 by Mental Health America, is to promote good mental health and encourage proper care and support for people that need it.

Good mental health is absolutely critical in the workplace. A healthy work environment can improve the productivity and morale of people with mental health challenges while providing a better experience for co-workers. Conversely, unsafe working conditions can result from not addressing the mental health needs of employees.

Mental health and work

Mental health challenges in the workplace is something that the majority of us will face during our careers. Seventy-six percent of respondents in a recent study reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition, including anxiety, depression, and stress, according to Harvard Business Review.

This situation can create an unsafe work environment. For one, stigmas related to mental health can be very harmful to the person affected. Secondly, productivity can be impacted, as workers who are struggling with their mental health are more likely to call in sick or take days off. When at work, they are more likely to lash out or become violent, and this can put other workers at risk.

When we consider that anyone can be affected, the state of mental health at work becomes an issue that needs to be addressed. Here are 3 tips to help businesses promote a dynamic and inclusive workplace that supports employees' and co-workers' mental health needs.

Mental health at the office, 3 tips to succeed

There are a number of challenges that come with promoting a healthy work environment for people with mental health challenges. While those challenges are different for every business, there are some simple principles that can help to address common challenges.

1. Address Stigmas

One of the biggest challenges is the stigma that still exists around mental health. This can make people hesitant to talk about their challenges or to seek help. One way to address this problem is by providing training for managers and employees on how to identify and support employees and coworkers with mental health challenges.

When appropriate, supervisors can relate their personal experiences with stress and anxiety to promote normalcy and acceptance. Being open-minded about the experiences and feelings of colleagues can go a long way to putting them at ease. Responding with empathy, offering peer support, and encouraging employees to seek help can get them through a difficult period.

2. Promote a supportive culture

Being open and supportive about mental health challenges can create a culture of acceptance that can protect people going through tough times. Even when an individual's performance may suffer for a period, reassuring them that they are still appreciated is important. "I approach things with patience first to find out what strengths or limitations that the individual has," says Richard Pearl, a Project Manager for Bona Fide Conglomerate, a non-profit that primarily employs people with disabilities. "I want to provide a working environment where the individual feels comfortable with, and can be reassured of their accomplishments."

"I approach things with patience first to find out what strengths or limitations that the individual has"

3. Promote stress management and mental health

Although most businesses are not in a position to offer extensive mental and emotional support, promoting healthy habits can go a long way to improving mental health at work. Encouraging coworkers and employees to take lunchtime walks or holding step challenges for people with fitness trackers can encourage healthy fitness habits.

Periodically offering slightly longer breaks for social activity or quiet time can communicate the importance of taking time for mental health.

Providing materials to encourage a healthy work-life balance is another key way to promote a healthy work environment for people with mental health challenges. A healthy work-life balance helps to reduce stress and burnout and gives employees the time and space they need to recover from setbacks. It also allows employees to focus on their mental health outside of work, which can prevent problems from arising in the first place.

Addressing mental health in the workplace: the new reality

Ignoring or stigmatizing mental health issues in the workplace could expose your employees or coworkers to unnecessary suffering and negatively affect productivity. Taking simple steps can make a big impact on the culture and attitude of your workplace.

Overall, promoting a supportive culture, promoting a healthy work-life balance, and providing access to mental health resources are all key components of a workplace that promotes good mental health.

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Charley is an artist and writer from Oregon. He covers topics around employment and non-profit organizations.

Portland, OR

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