How to Talk About Mental Illness in the Workplace

Mental health is one of those things that everyone secretly knows is important but publicly turns a blind eye to. People walk around pretending not to notice potential problems in themselves, their families and everyone else. The National Institute of Mental Health says that 1 in 6 U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. That’s a lot of people and problems to brush under the rug.

Unfortunately, sometimes the thing that’s stopping us from talking about it is our jobs. Talking about mental illness in the workplace isn’t easy but it needs to happen. Here’s how to talk about it successfully and how employers can create the right environment to do so.   

Talking with Your Supervisor

Someone has to get the conversation started so it might as well be you! When you envision yourself speaking with your boss about mental health, what do you want the conversation to be like? Is it positive and enlightening or serious and thought provoking? How you frame your message will have a major impact on the outcome of it.  

Finding the right time to talk with your supervisor is also pretty important. Choose a time when neither of you are busy or stressed. Maybe even schedule a meeting with him or her to talk so you have their undivided attention. Popping into their office randomly before a big meeting will definitely have a negative impact on how the mental illness conversation goes.

Determine how much you should share as well. If you aren’t comfortable sharing the details of your mental health, such as what causes your stress or depression, then don’t share them. Your comfort level is important.

Creating the Right Environment

Many companies are beginning to realize the importance of their employees’ mental health and some are even establishing programs that emphasize it. However, the key to successfully talking about mental illness and asking for help is having the right environment. If someone doesn’t feel they can ask for help be it dealing with stress, depression, or otherwise, then they simply won’t ask.

Employers can make it easier for employees to ask for help if they provide the resources and training necessary to support employees with mental illnesses. At a quick glance, a good first step is making sure managers are aware and understanding of illness. Mental health training’s that equip them with knowledge can be a great way to do this.

Providing employee benefits like access to professional help can also be incredibly valuable. Its ok if a supervisor isn’t able to help an employee work through their illness. The important thing is that they’re understanding of it and can refer employees to a professional.

Finally, consider developing support groups that meet weekly or monthly during lunch or after work. Group members can share experiences and tips with each other guided by a designated group leader. The purpose of these groups is to empower employees to talk about their mental health in a place free of stigma and judgement.

Open Discussions Help

When employees feel that their voice is heard and that it’s OK not to feel OK all the time, they can provide valuable insights into the inner-workings of a company that may be causing burnout. Prevention is key when it comes to dealing with mental illness and if no one is speaking up about health in the workplace, then nothing can prevent it. Employees and employers must work together to open the dialogue and solve problems.

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