Starting A Mental Health Conversation At Work

It forces one in five of us to call in sick each year and strips the Australian economy of nearly $30 billion per annum, yet for whatever reason we still can’t seem to talk about mental ill health at work.

While complex and varied in nature, mental wellness is not a topic which should be shied away from. In fact, the simplest way to reduce the stigma which surrounds psychological illness both at home and in the workplace, is to establish an open line of communication on the subject.

While there is no right way to address another person’s psychological state, there are guidelines which can be followed to help ensure such conversations have a positive impact on those involved. What follows are six simple ways to help start a mental health conversation at work:

  1. Sparking Interest: Give your employees a reason to discuss their psychological wellbeing by launching a mental health campaign and include such things as; Invite an inspiring guest speaker to recount how they overcame their issues with mental illness, highlight your company’s commitment to mental health through informative emails and workshops, have department heads discuss the availability of existing resources with their teams and consider installing a feedback box so staff can make management aware of any issues or desires they may have.

  2. Prepare Management: To successfully introduce mental ill health to the fore, leaders within your organisation will need to be trained and prepared in the handling of these conversations and given the skills and language required. In your training programme approachability and relatability should be stressed, so that employees can share their inner struggles and be met with empathy. Assure your leaders that being relatable and empathetic will not strip them of their authority. Rather, it will enable them to foster better relationships with their team.

  3. Time to Talk: Given the constant demands of the modern workplace, it can be easy to dismiss an employee as they attempt to highlight a mental health concern. It is important to acknowledge the strength it takes to discuss a personal issue in a professional capacity. If a member of staff is sent away upon broaching a sensitive topic, they may not attempt to raise it again. Teach leaders to be mindful of when a staff member approaches and set aside some time to listen.

  4. Listen and Be Present: As empathetic as you may be to the struggles of others, it is vital to remember that a conversation works two ways. If someone is sharing their thoughts with you, be present (no distractions) and listen to what they have to say.

  5. Speak Up: The corporate world can be an isolating place for those with mental health issues. Bullying or discrimination in any form should not go unchallenged. Allowing damaging dialogues to dominate company culture can deter vulnerable individuals from seeking help. Those whose behaviours could impede the recovery of their colleagues should be addressed in an appropriate fashion.

  6. Follow Through: It’s all well and good to promise an employee help during an initial discussion of their mental state, but implementing a plan of action is what’s most important. Once the appropriate arrangements have been made, be sure to schedule regular check-ins with the employee of concern to revise and review their progress.