Especially around the holidays, employees can experience problems due to the added stress of family obligations. The holidays are also a time when grief can creep back into our lives. While these things don’t necessarily create mental health issues, they can make them present themselves. Mental health has become a serious issue in society and therefore in our workplaces as well.

According to Metal Health America, one in five adults have a mental health condition. That’s over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Additionally, 56% of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment. With these rising numbers, we are bound to have co-workers and employees who have some type of mental condition. It becomes necessary to create greater understanding and acceptance in the workplace and find the resources to assist those employees with their work-life balance.

If you have an employee who you think might be struggling, it can be tempting to press them to ask “what’s wrong?”  But handling these situations carefully and choosing the correct words is important.

What Not to Say                                                   Try Instead
“How’s your health?”                                             “How can we help you do your job?”
“You seem depressed.”                                         “You’re not your usual self.”
“Snap out of it.”                                                      “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Think positive.”                                                     “It’s always OK to ask for help.”
“I know exactly what you’re going through.”          “It’s hard for me to understand exactly what you’re going through, but I can see that it’s distressing for you.”

To help your employees feel like they have a safe place to bring up mental health concerns without the negative stigmat attached, it is important to create awareness about mental health conditions. You can help foster a positive environment by creating educational programs to help employees reach out to coworkers who may be in emotional distress.

To support employees with mental illnesses, the National Mental Health Association and the National Council for Behavioral Health recommend the following actions:

  • Educate employees about the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders.
  • Encourage employees to talk about stress, workload, family commitments and other issues.
  • Communicate that mental illnesses are real, common and treatable.
  • Discourage stigmatizing language, including hurtful labels such as “crazy,” “loony” or “nuts.”
  • Understand and communicate the mental health benefits available to employees, including the Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).
  • Help employees transition back to work after they take leave.
  • Consult with your employee assistance program.
  • Be sure not diagnose peers or use judgmental language.

Implementing a teaching program can help educate employees identify co-workers who are in crisis and foster a positive working environment for all employees, regardless of their mental health. Additional resources can be found here.