Does Your Work Talk About Mental Health?

Jun 13, 2018 | Kimberly Williams

Mental health stigmas are shifting, your workplace should follow suit. 

Last winter, I worked for a season on a ski mountain that had over 600 employees. As expected, there are a lot of firsts: avalanche training scenarios, learning to snowboard etc,. But there was one first that really surprised me. It was the first job I had where mental health was an actual segment of the--get this-- health and safety program. Which brings us to the question: Does your work talk about mental health?

The mental illness stigma:

There has been a shift in recent years when it comes to the stigma surrounding mental health. A national 2016 survey conducted by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that 90% of Americans value mental health and physical health equally. A while back, a boss’s response to an employee requesting a mental health day off went viral for all the right reasons. The CEO reassured the employee and praised them, “You are and example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.” While we still find it easier to convey to our teammates that we “aren’t feeling well” or are “under the weather”, it’s situations like these that ease the taboo of discussing mental health at work.  

Why should your work care?

1 in 6 Americans are medicated for mental health. Mental health ought to be taken seriously, as it falls under health and safety. Not every company cares about their employees, but they should, especially when it comes to their bottom line. When employees thrive, their work thrives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that depression costs approximately 200 million lost workdays in the U.S. That’s  $17 to $44 billion dollars in lost productivity. Individuals with mental illness are used to keeping their condition in the shadows. When companies provide mental health resources and speak openly about mental health, employees are more likely to seek the help they deserve.

 Tips for requesting a mental health day:

When it comes to requesting a mental health day off, Dr. Jesse Viner MD, CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Yellowbrick,  has seen it all. She tells Bustle, “Asking for a sick day to address a mental health concern is no different than asking for a sick day to address a physical health concern — either request may be brief and general." While it’s your right to request time off, work culture varies, here are some guidelines:

  • Clearly decide why you need a mental health day: Is it from stress? Family issues? Anxiety? While you don’t owe an explanation to your employer, knowing why you need a mental health day will help you communicate your needs better.
  • If the thought of asking your boss and having to explain why gives you stress, you can always say you need a sick day. You don’t need to over-explain.
  • If someone probes for more information, you can always respond with, “I’d rather not talk about the details, but I’m OK.”
  • If you feel more comfortable with your supervisor, you can convey the request as a win-win for you and them, which helps break the stigma for you and your coworkers.

 Ideas for getting your company on track for prioritizing mental health:

During my work on the ski mountain I didn’t realize how much I needed mental health resources until I had them. They made it a point to devote time and money to making sure employees knew that their mental wellbeing was valued. We were given brochures with local hotlines and centres. The company teamed up with a counselling center to provide free workshops twice a month. If you feel comfortable speaking about a wellbeing initiative with your boss, here are some points on where to start:

  • Presentations during employee inductions set the tone for workplace culture and well-being. You may want to team up with a wellness or counseling center to present during this induction so employees know their options.
  • Initiate a workshop series with a wellbeing or counseling centre for employees to partake in at a convenient time and place.
  • Instead of sitting in a boardroom, have your colleagues take a walking meeting with you outside, around the building.
  • Partner up with a yoga studio to provide on-site yoga classes for stress relief at a discounted price.
  • This list of ideas on creating a well-being initiative for your workplace is simple and achievable.

Remember: in terms of mental health it’s important to put yourself first. There is no guilt in caring for yourself.

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