How to talk about mental health & suicide at work

As I walked into the office (okay I’m lying, it was a Zoom call), someone asked a very familiar question: “How’re things?”

I replied, curtly. “Good! Good,” and moved right along.

When was the last time you told someone at work how you’re really feeling?

It can be super refreshing to let people know what’s going on in your life.

An honest check-in with your colleagues can really support everyone’s mental health at work.

According to the most recent statistics in the US Mental Health Index, most people are unhappy at work.

In particular, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, stress levels sky-rocketed—but they never came down.

From US Mental health Index June 2021. Workers took on additional stress at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic but never lessened their stress load.

It’s beyond time we stopped stigmatizing mental health, especially at work and embraced it as simply part of our health.

Our state of mind and hearts affects us all deeply.

What’s more, workplaces where people feel they can talk about their mental health openly—and are given time and space to care for their mental health—are more humane and outperform toxic, unhealthy workplaces.

Here are 8 tips to help you talk about mental health at work

  1. Ask people how they’re doing. Take a minute to look them in the eye. With curiosity, ask them how things are going. If things are tough in your work environment, you can say, “I know things are tough right. I want to know how you’re doing.”
  2. Tell others how you’re doing. Stop hiding in the bathroom or staring numbly at the zoom call. Own it. “I’m struggling to stay focused today. I’m numb and tuning out.” When you own your feelings, you normalize vulnerability and authenticity. When you say, “Yeah, today’s been hard for me,” you give others permission to do the same.
  3. Normalize words like anxious, lonely, worried, depression, addiction, self-harm, mental health.
  4. Model self-compassion. You’re a person, too. Kristin Neff offers a host of tools on her recent Hidden Brain Podcast—give it a listen.
  5. Stop problem-solving for each other. Practice listening with your heart, not your head. This short video from Brené Brown can help.
  6. Acknowledge that how you feel affects your capacity to do your best work. When you’re feeling good, give it your all. When you’re not, own it.
  7. If you’re a leader, grant leaves for mental health days, counseling appointments, and other needed health care just like you would a medical issues. Do so without incredulity, questions, or raised eyebrows.
  8. Create structures and resources to help employees cope. There are some great examples and ideas in this 2018 Harvard Business Review article.

By following these 8 leadership tips you can help your team and colleagues improve your fulfillment and joy at work.

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