It's Time to Address Mental Health in the Workplace

Understanding mental health and how it impacts your employees will help you support their needs and elevate your organization's culture. Creating a culture of belonging is an intentional act -- it happens only if you listen and respond to the needs of your employees. Your willingness to support and address the mental health needs of your employees directly affects how they feel about their experience in the workplace and how they function in the environment. 

But the benefits to your organization go beyond culture and performance. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, when employees with mental health problems receive effective treatment, it can lower total medical costs, increase productivity, lower absenteeism, and decrease disability costs.  

There are still stigmas associated with mental health issues. 


Mental health is related to an employee's daily functioning, including coping skills, self-awareness, work performance, and the ability to connect with others. Many people think of mental health as an absence of mental illness, but the term encompasses everything about someone's health, including the quality or level of the person's overall functioning.

When someone has a mental health problem, it does not mean they are weak, incompetent, or a troublemaker. These beliefs are common misperceptions based on a lack of information or experience and conscious or unconscious bias. That bias can cause a negative undercurrent that feeds a toxic company culture, which can lead to discrimination lawsuits. 

Individuals with diagnosable mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders are active, respected, and productive members of society. While it is their responsibility to seek treatment, their condition does not negate their ability to be valuable employees or leaders of your organization. 

There's also a high probability that some individuals in your organization take prescribed psychotropic medication for mental health problems. Because they are valued employees, you are unaware of their situations, and mental health is a private matter that people are less inclined to discuss publicly.

If your organization stigmatizes mental health problems, employees will stay silent for fear of negative repercussions. That organizational mentality will make matters worse for your employees and your organization's culture. It can also lead to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and increased turnover. 

Mental health conditions are more common than you think. 

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 percent of working-age adults have a mental disorder at any time. So, none of us are immune. 

Many mental health issues are situational and are often unrelated to family history, a chemical imbalance, or how your brain is wired. Situational depression or anxiety can happen to anyone as they occur following an upsetting situation, traumatic event, or extenuating circumstance that causes extreme worry or nervousness. Symptoms of depression or anxiety can disrupt sleep, eating, work, and day-to-day functioning. 

For example, you might experience situational depression following the loss of a parent. The profound sadness can be overwhelming, affecting your ability to function, energy, and motivation. You may also find yourself isolating from others. 

Similarly, you might experience situational anxiety if you feel powerless and overwhelmed during the restructuring of your organization. If you worry excessively about the possibility of getting laid off, every time there's a meeting your heart will race, and your breathing will feel labored.

Whether you experience situational depression or anxiety can depend on many things, such as your coping skills, support systems, history, and personal experiences. If situational depression or anxiety continues for an extended period without treatment or support, it can become a more serious clinical problem.

Chronic mental health issues typically require some form of treatment to support the individual in achieving their highest level of functioning. They might require medication, therapy, or other support services. When an organization talks about mental health and fully supports its employees in getting the help they need, they feel less isolated. They feel valued and heard, which helps create a culture of belonging and allows everyone in your company to be at their best. 

Workplaces can contribute to mental health problems.

A 2022 report from Workable found that 92.6 percent of the workforce have struggled with mental health challenges that impacted their work. And workplace stressors, including those listed below, can lead to or exacerbate mental health challenges:

  • Poor leadership, including flawed management and limited communication. 
  • Excessive work hours or workload due to understaffing or restructuring. 
  • Unsafe emotional or physical work environments.
  • Unannounced changes with little information about the plan, purpose, or anticipated impact on staff.
  • Unrealistic or unclear deadlines or expectations. 
  • Unaddressed bullying from team leaders or other team members. 
  • Inadequate acknowledgment or support for employees experiencing stressful or traumatic events. 

Each of these examples is a missed opportunity for better communication, which fosters connection and community. They illustrate an organization that ignores employees' needs, states of mind, and overall well-being. Left unaddressed, these stressors will impair performance and reduce engagement, adversely impacting workplace culture and decreasing profitability. 

When leadership does not think about or prioritize the general well-being and emotional needs of staff along with the needs of the organization, the outcome is an increase in situational mental health problems. 

How to address mental health in the workplace. 

As a leader, your role is to support the mental health needs of your employees. Being open-minded, recognizing and normalizing that everyone struggles with mental health occasionally is a great start. The American Heart Association CEO Roundtable outlined several actions you can take to cultivate a mental-health-friendly workplace: 

  1. Voice support for employees' mental health needs by encouraging conversations across all levels of the organization, modeling acceptance, and offering mental health benefits.
  2. Create a mental health action plan with employee input. Integrate it into your organization's health, safety, and well-being plan and assess it periodically.
  3. Provide mental health education and training that offers a common language for discussion and teaches employees how to connect to available resources.
  4. Offer solutions across the continuum of risk and normalize mental health self-care with positive role modeling, tone, and regular communication.
  5. Measure effectiveness as you grow your programs by working with vendors who track results regarding behavior changes.

Effective communication has a powerful impact on an organization's culture, especially regarding mental health awareness and support. I've taught practical communication skills through my program, the Communication Protocol, to teams and entire organizations for more than two decades. Every time I do, I witness improvement in communication, employee confidence and mental health, and the organization's culture, efficiency, and profitability. 

Having a mental-health-friendly organization that talks about and is transparent about available services and support will go a long way toward creating a workforce where everyone is engaged and committed. Offering practical training that supports good communication and the mental health needs of your employees will benefit not only the individual employee but the entire organization. 

You can help reduce the stigmas about mental health. It's time to initiate open and honest conversations at your organization. 


©Copyright 2022 Debra Roberts, LCSW All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.

 A version of this article was initially published on as: The Business Case for Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace