5 Ways to Start the Mental Health Conversation

Greg Boyed’s recent death raises issues of mental health in the workplace.  For many of us, his death sent the sobering message that no matter the professional heights people have reached, it’s impossible to fully know what they are dealing with in private.

Most people don’t realize that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It’s the leading cause of illness and disability in the world, taking more than 800,000 lives each year.

Within the work environment, there’s a pressure to perform, to excel, and to be perfect. And all of that is simply not realistic. It’s not about making excuses; it’s about helping people feel supported and safe so they can excel at their jobs. There is a need for a space where you can throw your hand up when something isn’t right and get help.

5 Strategies for Starting the Mental Health Conversation in the Workplace

You don’t have to run a company to help further the conversation around mental health in the workplace. In fact, anyone at any career level can infiltrate change, the hardest part might be knowing where and how to start. Take note of the following strategies:

1. Show you care

Above all, bring compassion and empathy into the workplace. When co-workers see that you’re motivated by profit only, they don’t feel like their mental health is valued. On the other hand, when people feel free to be their best selves, profit and productivity are often positive side effects.

Compassion isn’t something you can fake. However, simply sending a clear message of “Hey, it’s OK to talk about this stuff” is a great start.

Sebastian Junger, in his book “Tribe,” found that there’s a low rate of depression and suicide within tribes. This is the case because individuals feel integral to the success of the tribe. But nowadays, it’s the loss of community, Junger proposes, that leads to so many mental health issues. As we’ve become more affluent, we’ve separated ourselves from one another, building bigger houses and leaning into isolation. It’s easy to stay in our bubbles — cubes and offices — and then go home and sit alone. But the more we can encourage human connection within the workplace, the more we can regain that healthy tribal mentality.

2. Bring in an expert

Speak up and suggest to invite a guest who can speak to mental health, or someone who has gone through similar issues, whether in a training capacity or simply as means to kick off a mental health wellness initiative.

Even the most high-functioning people suffer. And when they do, companies face consequences. To encourage mental health discussions, some companies have an in house therapist a couple days a month to hold confidential discussions with employees.

When I worked for a large Hawke’s Bay business, we had a trained professional psychologist on site once a month.  The doc simply spent his day talking with individuals & helping them work through their personal issues.

Sure, some people will avoid talking about their personal issues & dismiss the opportunity as ‘hippy dippy’. But once you get over that initial gut reaction, the knowledge that there is someone in the building who is open-minded and supportive is a powerful strength to any workplace.

3. Set an example, but be discreet

When talking about mental health in the workplace, it’s important to know that it’s not about airing dirty laundry. It can be as simple as setting an example — simply raising your hand and saying, “I’m struggling, too.”

But remember, because mental health is a sensitive subject, it must be carefully navigated.  If something pops up that you’re not equipped to handle, leave it to the professionals. As long as you talk to co-workers and let them know you care and create an environment where others can do the same, you’ve made a difference.

4. Let people know about other resources

From the National Suicide Crisis Helpline to apps like Talkspace that provide options for people to discuss mental health issues, there are many additional resources to turn to, and it’s important that employees know about them. Click here for more resources.

In addition, some workplaces have encouraged weekly massage, yoga or meditation exercises.  It’s an easy thing to mock, but taking time to intentionally de-stress has helped helped me immensely, and I frequently recommend the practice to others. Take advantage of any opportunity to support your team this way, whether with weekly meditation sessions in the office or even just sponsoring a subscription to a service that encourages a daily practice.

5. Make time to volunteer

Organisations that provide volunteer opportunities reap huge benefits. Studies show that the empathetic response people get from volunteering measurably increases happiness. Working toward a common goal increases social interaction, busting that lonely feeling and decreasing incidences of depression.

Plus, when you volunteer, an organisation counts on you. When you get out of bed in the morning knowing that what you do makes a difference to someone else, it can be a great way to raise your spirits. That’s why any effort you make to encourage volunteerism, whether it’s on a quarterly or annual basis will go far.

Culturally, we are raised to be top performers. It’s hard to admit when you’re not coping with stress, work & life & family.  Above all, we must remember that these are universal struggles. So start the conversation at your workplace by opening up, raising your hand and make the first move, to let others know they’re not alone.