5 Ways to Destigmatize Mental Health in the Workplace

By Jamie Moskowitz | May 25, 2021 | , | Mission Driven Companies, Nonprofit

How about a little break?

If you’re not already sitting, find a comfortable seat. Let’s do some quick “box breathing,” a technique used to help alleviate stress and anxiety.

Close your eyes. (But not before reading the instructions below!)

Step 1: Breathe in for 4 seconds

Step 2: Hold for 4 seconds

Step 3: Breathe out for 4 seconds

Step 4: Hold for 4 seconds

Repeat four times. Pro tip: “Draw” a box with your finger to stay mindfully aware of each step in the exercise.

You are now equipped with a powerful mind-body tool — that’s exciting!

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is “You Are Not Alone.” I’m here to echo that message. About one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness, and while not all of us have a diagnosis, many more of us experience mental health struggles, with heightened severity in the taxing time we’re living in. It’s normal — remember that.

While mental health concerns are increasingly common, we have unfortunately been widely taught to keep it to ourselves for fear of judgment, especially at work. Because of this stigma, there are many reasons it may be difficult for people to talk about mental health struggles in the work setting: not wanting to be treated differently, having your issues minimized or dismissed, having your struggles perceived as weaknesses (they are not!), and more.

Man sitting at a desk with his head down
While mental health concerns are increasingly common, we have unfortunately been widely taught to keep it to ourselves for fear of judgment, especially at work.

To support our employees and colleagues (and create a better workplace overall), it’s crucial to chip away at mental health stigma at work, to normalize experiences of those we work with, and to build a psychologically safe environment. Luckily, the mental health and support landscapes in work environments are beginning to shift in this way, but what concrete steps can we take to help this positive change happen faster? Here are five ways to start:

1. Do a pulse check and gather feedback.

Get a sense of how your team is feeling. You won’t know what specific challenges to solve until you get feedback. Since the topic of psychological safety can be sensitive, one option to solicit feedback initially is an anonymous survey. Ask employees about their thoughts on the current state of psychological safety in the workplace. What could be improved upon within the culture? Also include questions about times they have felt safe talking about their mental health struggles. What about those situations made it feel okay to open up?

2. Create a wellness committee.

Whether it’s for offsites or fundraising, a good committee can make a difference. Enter: the wellness committee! Give employees the option to form a group solely focused on the well-being, mental health, and self-care of all colleagues. It’s by the employees, for the employees — and who knows what they need better they do? The committee can keep mental wellness top of mind with routine reminders about self-care ideas and available resources, as well as activities focused on decreasing stress and finding balance.

3. Engage authentically and communicate protections.

Whether you’re a manager talking to a direct report, or a peer talking to a peer, be present and authentic in your conversations. “How are you?” is often used as a greeting no one answers honestly, but asking “how are you really doing?” might garner a more genuine answer. Another key way to decrease others’ fear around discussing mental health struggles is to be vulnerable and open up about your own — if you feel comfortable. It helps to normalize their experience, which can make it less scary to share. Lastly, help people feel protected and safe. Many people may be scared to share for fear of being fired or discriminated against, so being clear about protections for mental health concerns at work is crucial for creating a safe environment.

4. Learn about stigmatizing language.

A lot of words around mental illnesses have made their way into our common vernacular. Words like “crazy” and “psycho,” among many others. But for those living with these illnesses, hearing these words casually and out of the correct context can be hurtful — and can also add to the stigma. It can go a long way to be more mindful of how we use these words. If you have a chance, take a look at this fantastic resource that breaks it down.

5. Model a healthy work-life balance.

We learn what we see, right? If employees see it’s okay and normal to take time off, they’ll be more likely to do so and get the recharge they need. Those in leadership positions have an amazing opportunity to help teams maintain a healthy work-life balance. Behaviors that leaders can model include things like keeping normal hours, not contacting people outside of work hours, encouraging vacation, and allowing for flexibility. No more glorifying the overworked, always-on schedule that has been historically worn as a badge of honor.

Work-life balance graphic<br />
Those in leadership positions have an amazing opportunity to help teams maintain a healthy work-life balance.

The cultivation of a supportive, informed, and empathetic work environment has always been imperative. Hopefully after reading this article, you can walk away with a few concrete ways to start destigmatizing mental health at work and making your organization a safe place for employees to be their authentic selves. While Mental Health Awareness Month might only last through the end of May, I encourage everyone to keep these tips top of mind every single day — for yourself and everyone around you.


About the Author

Jamie Moskowitz, Senior Social Media Associate at Salesforce.org
Jamie Moskowitz
Senior Social Media Associate, Salesforce.org

By day, Jamie is a Senior Social Media Associate at Salesforce.org where she leads organic social media strategy. By night, she’s a Master’s in Counseling graduate student at Palo Alto University — the first step in her journey to become a licensed therapist.