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Mental health promotion in the workplace

Ceylin Güven

Workplace mental health promotion is more relevant than ever. In the US, 1 in 5 adults suffer from a mental illness, with 1 in 20 of them experiencing severe symptoms. In addition to personally affecting your employees, disregarding mental health at work also has serious implications within the working world.For this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, we created an informative guide about mental health promotion in the workplace. We hope our insight about the importance of breaking the stigma around mental health, the included list of possible signs of symptoms, and our actionable tips will help business leaders create more inclusive and less damaging workplaces around the globe.

Why is mental health important in the workplace?

With ‘visible’ physical illnesses or injuries, nobody expects employees to carry around working as usual. However, mental illnesses are usually not treated the same way. Which is why it’s especially important to go against mental health stigma in the workplace, and actively work towards promoting positive mental health. There are a lot of ways your employees’ mental health problems can manifest. A decline in mental health can start presenting itself with concentration issues, and might lead to employee burnout. In addition to worsening the personal wellbeing of your workers, this can also negatively affect your business overall.The wellbeing of your employees also has a direct effect on your business. There’s no doubt that mental health and productivity in the workplace are strongly related. According to research conducted by the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety-related disorders cause a $1 trillion loss in business productivity worldwide. This is not a number to take lightly, and will clearly show you how mental health promotion can create a rise in your company efficiency and profits.

Signs of dealing with mental health issues in the workplace

As we mentioned above, the stigma around mental health issues can cause some of your employees to sweep their problems under the rug in order to appear ‘functional’. Because of this tendency to keep up appearances, it might be difficult to spot if an employee is struggling. The key point here is to never assume everything is alright, just because you can’t see something wrong.Which is why, before delving deeper into the topic of mental health promotion in the workplace, it’s important to familiarize yourself with common signs of mental health issues. Here are some of the telltale signs that an employee might be dealing with mental health issues in the workplace:

  • Increased anxiety, even over ‘small’ issues
  • Lack of energy, overall fatigue
  • Insecurity about being unproductive, unhelpful, etc.
  • Loss of interest in their projects
  • Increased emotionality (particularly in the form of sudden emotional outbursts and crying)
  • A certain ‘slowness’ in their movements that wasn’t there before, having a harder time taking action and deciding
  • Becoming easily distracted
  • Change in their social skills (more disputes with their coworkers, increased hostility, social withdrawal, etc.)
  • Noticeable loss of productivity and efficiency
  • Difficulty starting projects because of decreased self esteem
  • Unexplained periods of extreme sadness (these can also manifest in physical pains)

Tips for promoting mental health in the workplace

Now that you’re more informed on the subject, you might be wondering how to support mental health in the workplace. We compiled a list of 7 actionable steps you can take to transform your work culture to spot, address, and accommodate the mental wellbeing of your employees.Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if these steps (or others) fit your working model. Consider this as a simple guide to get you started on your mental health promotion journey, and feel free to adapt these to fit the needs of your talents.

Make sure mental health care is accessible

The most basic and effective step is to provide mental health care to your employees. Some extensive healthcare plans will cover therapy and medication, which can help some of your workers tremendously. Make sure you do your research on the best healthcare policies, so you’re choosing the best plan with the right options.Besides insurance, another thing you can do is have a supportive benefits package for mental health. This can include coverage for mental health days off, a monthly stipend towards wellness resources, work-from-home options, and more.

Establish guidelines and policies supporting mental wellbeing at work

Managing employees with mental health issues is almost impossible without creating efficient and clear policies and guidelines around supporting mental health. There are a few important policies you can implement, which include:

  • Anti-harrassment and discrimination policies,
  • Health and safety policies and guidelines,
  • Mental health education and training for all employees,
  • Employee assistance programs (EAP),
  • Employee resource groups (ERP) for professionals from marginalized backgrounds,

…and more. Make sure you do your research and implement them in a way that can transform your work culture to be more accepting.While establishing these guidelines, remember to be inclusive and considerate towards how different identities deal with varying degrees of mental health problems. For example, mental health promotion can be especially helpful for your LGBTQ+ employees, who unfortunately have higher rates of going through discrimination within the workplace.

Know the importance of physical health for mental wellbeing

Don’t disregard the benefits of physical activity for better mental health. Office spaces promote an unhealthy amount of inactivity, and physical and mental health are more connected than you might have realized. Wellcome’s 2021 report suggests that decreasing your daily sitting amount by just one hour can improve depression symptoms up to 10%, and anxiety symptoms for up to 15%.There are a lot of ways to promote a healthier work environment. For example, you can include gym memberships in your wellness benefits package, introduce dynamic workstations with standing desks, or encourage regular movement breaks within the workday.

Adopt a work culture of autonomy & flexibility

For someone that deals with regular mental health complications–like depressive episodes or anxiety attacks–a classic 9-5 workday can be more damaging than you think. The workload and hours can easily turn suffocating, and worsen already-existing mental health symptoms.To avoid making your employees that deal with mental health problems feel isolated and disconnected from your company, try to create a more flexible working arrangement within your company. This goes hand in hand with implementing helpful policies and benefits, such as paid mental health days off. Creating remote work options and advocating employee autonomy might be among additional ways to build trust and make employees feel more comfortable in difficult times.

Normalize being open about mental health at work

The importance of combating the stigma around mental health and normalizing being open about mental health at work is paramount. Without the feeling of security and openness, a lot of your employees battling with mental health issues on their own might feel alone, isolated and helpless. A support system within the workplace and the right guidance can become crucial with mental health promotion.A simple and widely used method for this is the buddy method, where you assign an experienced employee as a ‘workplace buddy’ to your newcomers during the onboarding process. While assisting them about the workplace and helping them get settled in, buddies also become an accessible point to ask for advice and seek help.If you choose to follow this, don’t forget to provide your employees with the necessary resources and train them about mental health.

Provide regular training for all employees

Training your employees, especially team leaders, about mental health can be a game changer. There are so many people who might not be aware of how some particular symptoms of mental health issues present themselves, which can cause them to go unnoticed.Once you properly train your employees about mental health promotion, you can help combat the stigma and create a welcoming workspace. You’ll also be increasing the chances of your employees to detect and help with the needs of your workers dealing with mental health problems.

Create opportunities to connect outside work

While promoting positive mental health at work is important, you should also be actively encouraging your employees to connect outside the workplace.Especially with remote work arrangements, the feelings of isolation and disconnect can quickly become a huge issue. To help combat this problem, you can create opportunities for people in your business to connect and check in outside of the work context. This will also help create stronger intercompany bonds, which will increase the trust and work towards your goal of mental health promotion.These meetings can be in the form of regular check-in meetings, company dinners, or something else–you can get really creative here. Just try to make sure it caters to your employees’ needs and fits your business model, otherwise turnout might be low.

Become a better employer by promoting positive mental health in the workplace

Mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. can become detrimental when it comes to your employees’ wellbeing and productivity. Using the mental health promotion strategies we provided in this article, you can create a much healthier work environment; for your employees, for your business, and for yourself.Keep watching Ruul Blog to read more resources on mental health at work!


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