People Are Comfortable Discussing Mental Health at Work—Just Not Their Own

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Written By Robby Macaay

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As employees and employers adjust to new working conditions, including more flexible remote or hybrid schedules, they are also prioritizing something else that hasn’t traditionally been part of the workplace environment: mental health.

In a new poll conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), researchers found encouraging signs that workers and their managers are more comfortable addressing mental health issues such as burnout and stress. But there are still gaps when it comes to creating a supportive mental-health environment in the workplace.

More than 2,000 people, including executives, completed the survey. All worked at companies with at least 100 employees. The participants answered questions about how comfortable they felt bringing up mental-health issues at work, what resources were available to them, and whether their employers provided mental-health benefits as part of their insurance coverage, among other things. About 74% of employees said they felt it was acceptable to discuss mental health issues at work, and slightly more—77%—said they would be comfortable if their colleagues discussed them. About 86% felt they could be themselves at work, and four out of five said they were satisfied with the emotional support they received from managers.

That was the good news. When it came to bringing up their own mental-health concerns at work or using the resources available to them, people were much less open. Only 58% said they would feel comfortable talking about their own mental health with colleagues. “The common reasons people gave were stigma, judgment, not seeing others talk about mental health, and seeming weak to their colleagues,” says Barb Solish, national director of NAMI’s office of innovation.

About half of the participants said they felt burned out at work, and 27% said they considered quitting because of how their employment was affecting their mental health.

Read More: I Tried to Cure My Burnout. Here’s What Happened

While employees generally feel that discussing mental health at work is appropriate, one in four say they don’t know if their company offers coverage for mental-health services, Solish says. “Companies have a lot of room to improve when it comes to communicating about these options to employees,” says Solish.

Addressing the gaps starts at the top, she says, with executives setting an example for how employees could and should prioritize mental health. “Leadership sets the tone,” says Solish. “If the CEO and other leaders are open about themselves, that creates a culture of psychological safety that helps employees to feel that if [their leaders] can talk about their mental-health concerns, then maybe I can. It can be as simple as a CEO sending an email saying, ‘I felt burned out this week, and here are the resources at the company that helped me, and may also help you.’”

Equipping managers with the skills they need to talk about and provide support for employees on mental-health issues is also important. 70% of managers or executives had not received training to address mental-health issues, even though nearly 75% of employees felt that these leaders were responsible for creating a safe environment to address these concerns.

Employees can also take actions to improve their own mental health at work, Solish says. They can ask and become informed about what services (like counseling) are covered through their insurance plans, as well as programs that their companies offer to address stress and burnout. Some of these may include resources outside of the workplace, but the employer could be the gateway to these programs.

“Investing in employee mental health is not just the right thing to do, it’s also an investment in the economic health of an organization,” says Solish. “If people are uncomfortable about talking about mental health and uncomfortable seeking services and support, then they become more burned out, and that is going to hurt the organization. Mental health has a direct impact on a company’s success or failure.”

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