For too long, the topic of mental health has been the ultimate work-talk taboo. The stigma that comes from vulnerable conversations about mental health can be heavy. But the statistics are too significant to ignore—1 in 5 adults experience issues with mental health. The odds are high you either are or you are working with members of that 20%. And according to a recent study, 86% of surveyed U.S. workers want their employer “to build a corporate culture that encourages candid conversations and honest dialogue about mental health issues and challenges.”
And if those statistics don’t inspire action, consider this: According to the CDC, depression causes 200 million lost workdays each year. The financial impact of that number could be pretty significant to your bottom line. Moreover, mental health issues are the leading cause of disability worldwide.
No matter how you look at it, the reach and impact of mental health are substantial. So why do we avoid talking about it at work? It’s time to shed the stigma and create workplaces that embrace honest conversations about mental health.
Making space for the conversation has to be intentional.
An environment that invites honest, safe and respectful conversations about mental health will not spontaneously appear. It has to be nurtured. And it should be. The workplace is one of the most important places to talk about mental health and wellbeing. After all, people spend an overwhelming amount of time in their lives at work. And unfortunately, the stigma of mental illness can keep people silent.
There’s a long history of conflating success with mental toughness (or even ruthlessness) in the workplace. Ignoring mental or emotional vulnerability, though, might actually hinder your company’s success. In fact, the emotional IQ of your team could be your competitive edge.
If you have a practice of inviting vulnerability and honesty into your company culture, that’s a great start. But take things a step further by opening the door for conversations about mental health.
Starting with your leadership team can go a long way. Does anyone on your leadership team model mental health advocacy? Put them on the front page of your intranet. Like many other things in your culture, creating a safe environment to talk about mental health has to start at the top. Leaders being able to share sets a tone for the rest of your company. And it doesn’t have to be a story of mental illness. Not everyone has experienced depression, but we have all struggled. Everyone is capable of vulnerability.
The dialogue is worth it. Keep it going.
It’s one thing to offer subsidized mental health resources, but it’s another to encourage the conversation. Start an employee resource group, create toolkits for managers, get your leadership talking about mental health. All of these things could unlock new potential for your culture.
I feel called to be authentic and say that I have struggled with depression since my teenage years. I’m comfortable to talk about all aspects of who I am, and one of the things that I’ve learned on my own journey with my mental health is that I need encouragement and acceptance in all areas of my life. I embrace conversations about my mental health and seek out colleagues that do the same. Throughout the pandemic—with the blending of work and home through remote work—my work network became an important part of my support system, and it actually strengthened my connect with my colleagues.
In fact, cultivating a safe environment enriches cultures and engagement. Absenteeism at work, engagement and productivity as well as retention can all be improved when companies cultivate an environment of psychological safety and acceptance. But shedding the stigma of discussing mental health will enrich your company culture and your employees’ overall experiences tenfold.