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Talking About Mental Health at Work

By Jenn DeWall Confidence and Leadership Coach & Keynote Speaker & Trainer.

Talking About Mental Health at Work is More Important Than Ever

Did you know that in the U.S., more than half of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder in their lifetime? 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in any given year, and 1 in 25 live with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. These statistics apply to everyone from entry-level employees all the way up to the C-suite. Given the amount of time we spend at work (some estimate as much as one-third of our lifetime), you would think mental health would be a commonly discussed topic. However, mental illness can carry a stigma in the workplace, making people reluctant to discuss it with co-workers, managers, or human resources.

Through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been some real progress when it comes to talking about mental health in the workplace. As employers saw the effect of stress and burnout that came with stay-at-home restrictions and prolonged uncertainty, conversations about mental health became a priority. More leaders are stepping up to ensure conversations about mental health are more common at work and trying to ensure they create a work environment that supports good mental health. But while more people are talking about mental health at work, a 2021 survey showed that only 49% of respondents described that experience as positive or supportive. We clearly still have some progress to make!

Why do We Need to Talk About Mental Health at Work Anyway?

If you are a manager or leader at work, you may wonder if talking about mental health is a good idea. After all, unless you work in mental health, it may feel outside of your expertise. But it’s important to know that when employees feel empowered to talk about their health and well-being, they feel supported and understood, which can impact workplace culture in great ways:

  • It improves job performance and increases productivity

  • Healthy workplace cultures attract and retain great employees

  • Reduced incidences of burnout

  • Increased social inclusion among employees

  • Reduced sick days

Leaders in the workplace have an opportunity to positively impact the lives of their employees by encouraging them to care for their health, both mentally and physically, so they can thrive at work and at home.

How Can I Talk to My Boss About My Mental Health?

If you are experiencing a mental health challenge or have been diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder, you may wonder if it’s a good idea to discuss it at work. To be honest, it really depends on the workplace culture. As a life coach, I encourage my clients to live their truth and love themselves, but some workplaces aren’t supportive, and sharing personal information may not be a great idea. However, everyone deserves help and support, and if you need help or accommodation at work to take care of your mental health, I encourage you to ask for it. It’s important to advocate for yourself and what you need.

First, before having a conversation about your mental health, know why you want to have the conversation. Are you sharing information to build trust with your manager or team? Do you have a specific request for your employer, such as accommodation at work or time off to address your health? Or do you need information about resources and workplace policies around mental health? Knowing why you want to discuss mental health at work will help you determine what to say. To have a productive conversation, you may want to take the following steps:

  1. Let your employer/manager/boss know you need to talk to them about something important. This will prepare them for a serious conversation.

  2. Stay focused on how your mental health challenges impact your work. Maybe anxiety is affecting your ability to give presentations, or depression is affecting your ability to get to work on time.

  3. Provide suggestions about how your employer can support you or what accommodations they can make to help you. This could be allowing time for therapy appointments during workdays or providing a flexible start time to the day.

  4. Focus on the positive. Share something positive that may come from your challenges. Maybe you are learning communication skills in therapy that will help you at work. Perhaps you would like to start an initiative to support mental health at work that will help all the employees.

Where to Learn More about Mental Health at Work

Mental health is a big topic, and sometimes it can be complicated! There are a lot of great resources for anyone to learn more about caring for their mental health, supporting people with mental illness, and creating mentally healthy workplaces. Here are just a few:

Jenn DeWall is a leadership speaker, facilitator, trainer, and podcast host. Jenn is a Millennial leadership and workplace culture expert based in Denver, CO. Do you want to create a culture of belonging? Contact Jenn today.

Are you looking for an engaging keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, or trainer? Book Jenn for your leadership needs today!

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