How leaders can address mental health in the workplace with sensitivity

Approximately 1 in 4 British people will suffer from a mental health problems every year. From severe stress and PTSD to depression and mania, that’s a quarter of our total population.

That, of course, makes it incredibly likely that some of your staff will struggle over the years they work with you, and supporting them is vital to maintaining a healthy, happy team. But, where do you begin?

To help you out, we’ve compiled some top tips for addressing mental health in the workplace and looking after your team.

Educate yourself first

Before talking about mental health in the workplace, be sure to educate yourself (reading this is a great start!). Learn more about the symptoms of different mental illnesses and how they can affect people’s lives. Not only will this add to your empathetic attitude, but it’ll also give you confidence when talking. If someone comes to you with a personal problem around mental health, you’ll be more equipped to deal with it and be the strength they need.

Learn more about signs, symptoms, and treatments for mental illnesses, along with researching in-depth topics, like whether high achievers are susceptible to addiction and how menopause can affect women’s mental health.

Be vulnerable when talking about mental health

The stigmas around mental health have drastically reduced in the past few years, but that doesn’t mean your team won’t find it hard. Talking openly about mental illness in the workplace is still daunting! You can help them by letting your barriers down and starting the conversation.

Talk openly about your own mental health. This could be discussing issues you’ve had in the past or ways that you maintain your well-being. Not only will this gain you the trust of your team, but it’ll also add plenty of sensitivity and empathy when you address mental health. 

Be transparent, and your staff will see you as more relatable and approachable, helping to start the conversation.

Make it clear that staff won’t be discriminated against

Even if you’ve been honest about your mental health, staff may still worry when talking about their own. A prominent cause of this is that they don’t want to face discrimination. If they suffer from depression and need a lighter workload for a week or a little flexibility in working hours, they don’t want it to affect their position in the company.

Make it clear when addressing mental health that nobody will suffer from speaking out. Let your staff know that your door is always open to talk, and your only goal will be to help them, not to add to their load. 

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Never make assumptions

As a manager or CEO, you should never make assumptions about anyone’s mental health. Don’t try to guess what they’re feeling or why treatment hasn’t helped. Even if you’re doing this from a place of care and kindness, it isn’t the right approach. Instead, allow your staff to tell you what’s going on and why. If their patterns of behavior don’t follow what you expect, you can always talk to them to learn more. Just never jump to conclusions.

Take the time to listen before you respond

If you want to address mental health with sensitivity, take the time to listen to your staff. It can be easy to stand in front of your team and talk at them about how you’re going to deal with mental illness, but this should be a conversation. Ask questions, encourage a back-and-forth, and always be open to suggestions.

This applies to one-on-one conversations, too. Make listening your priority, and be sure you understand what the individual is saying before you respond. If this isn’t your strong suit, take it as an opportunity to improve your skills!

Have an action plan in place

One of the best ways to show that you’re serious about mental health support is by having an action plan in place. When discussing it with your team, present them with your steps to provide support for those who are struggling.

This could include:

  • Allowing flexible hours and remote work
  • Creating quieter or less stressful work environments
  • Providing tools to improve well-being e.g. a lightbox for anyone with seasonal depression
  • Agreements to allow leave at short notice for anyone who has a mental illness
  • Setting up mental health support groups
  • Hiring professionals to give mental health and wellbeing talks

You don’t have to have a full plan in place, but as long as you show real, actionable steps to make your workplace better for those struggling, your staff will appreciate it. 

Final words

Talking about mental health in the workplace isn’t always easy. But, with these steps, you should be able to address it with sensitivity and compassion, providing real help for any staff who are struggling.

About the author

Gemma Williams is an independent HR professional working remotely from as many coffee shops as she can find. Gemma has gained experience in several HR roles but now turns her focus towards growing her personal brand and connecting with leading experts in career development and employee engagement. Connect with her on Twitter: @GemmaWilliamsHR

Gemma Williams

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