19 Jul Educating Employees About Mental Health: Strategies for Success
Education on mental health issues is the foundation for helping people be better allies. If you’re a leader, encouraging or instituting better education at your company is a big-picture way you can be a mental health ally. You will likely experience a mental health challenge at some point in your life. Recognizing this possibility should motivate you to be a workplace ally for mental health, to treat your colleagues dealing with mental health issues with the empathy you would want under similar circumstances. Research shows that someone you know — a colleague, a family member, a friend, a client, a board member, or even yourself — will experience a mental health challenge at some point in your life. Yet the stigma and lack of information about mental health block the way in many workplaces. The myth that people with mental health conditions cannot make meaningful contributions leads to conscious and unconscious bias. We must work together to eradicate the stigma and its devastating impacts. We may struggle with mental health, but we can recover. We can thrive at home and work, and we can help make this possible for each other by being allies, and collaborating to create a supportive workplace for all. Broadly, there are two types of educational programs: personal accounts in an intimate gathering or auditorium environment and informational events in a workshop or classroom format.
The myth that people with mental health conditions cannot make meaningful contributions leads to conscious and unconscious bias. We must work together to eradicate the stigma and its devastating impacts.
Events that feature intimate, lived experiences and personal accounts are often the most effective, as they can humanize challenges and foster empathy. Leaders, in particular, can share their experiences with mental health, which can also impact corporate culture and policy. Employees can share their stories, which often have the greatest impact since they’re more likely to be more relatable to other employees. The speakers at these events don’t have to be folks on staff but people who have experience leading these kinds of discussions.
Workshops and classes
Informational events can provide useful background knowledge to all employees. Several organizations offer workplace training, the most popular being the Mental Health First Aid Course offered by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. Mental health nonprofits such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness also provide training. Another helpful employee resource is a mental health handbook that covers mental health basics, benefits information, and a list of vetted healthcare providers. Be sure to refer employees to reputable sources, such as NAMI or Mayo Clinic, for additional information.
Engaging Employee Groups
Peer-to-peer contact can benefit those employees who struggle with loneliness and isolation. Employee resource groups (ERGs) can provide a forum for those impacted by, living with, or supporting someone with mental illness and identify opportunities to address any workplace issues. All employees should be welcome to join, but privacy for members should be preserved. Managers should promote and participate in these groups where relevant to help normalize these issues. In addition to ERGs, you can model good behavior in groups by openly and publicly talking about mental health, sharing your own challenges, lobbying for good mental health for all employees at all levels, and supporting mental health activities, initiatives, and events.
Group self-care activities in the workplace promote peer-to-peer engagement. Popular activities include exercise and fitness classes, healthy meals, meditation, and mindfulness programs. These experiences also foster more in-person conversations, which can facilitate discussions about mental health. Sometimes people with mental health challenges find it comforting to do things with colleagues that aren’t directly focused on mental health; many fear the loss of such social connections due to their issues. Extracurricular activities organized around a shared interest or affinity can create a space in which to create connections with other employees that facilitate engagement. These may include employee involvement in DEI initiatives and discussion groups or community service programs. Sponsoring or encouraging participation in mental health nonprofit events such as fundraising walks also helps raise awareness and invites open employee discussion while benefiting programs.
To be a mental health ally at work is to help those struggling with mental health issues feel valued and needed. This can have positive long-term benefits, including increased employee engagement, productivity, and loyalty. Strengthening and deepening relationships between colleagues can also benefit the broader employee community. When we’re supported, we’re also often eager to support others, creating a virtuous self-reinforcing cycle.