Breaking bias, normalizing mental health at work talks, opening up and getting closer with your teammates
Mental health is a subject that is thankfully becoming more and more normal to discuss. As conversations around mental health at work are getting louder, the difficulty in addressing and understanding it truly isn’t getting much easier.
For decades, bringing up mental health at work was taboo, and even looked down upon, so it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. As hard as opening up or voicing an opinion may be, there are plenty of benefits to doing so, as WHO points out.
First things first – why discuss mental health at work?
For most people, especially those working in larger companies, separating their personal and professional lives is the norm. However, this puts everyone in a tricky position.
Whatever is going on back at home or in our minds can take a hit on work, whether we want it or not. And vice versa, issues arising at a workplace may well spill onto our personal lives, health and behavior.
Starting a conversation about mental health at work may not seem like an obvious idea to anyone, for obvious reasons. One is that you’re simply there to do your job, not engage in friendly banter all day long. However, addressing mental health at work is important, and may benefit everyone in the long run.
So, here is why you should be talking about mental health at work:
- Normalizing the topic
- Establishing a work environment of trust
- Educating colleagues whose knowledge in the field slacks
- Creating a judgment-free zone in the office, where people feel comfortable voicing their worries, concerns, or struggles
- Building tighter bonds with your workmates
- Learning from others to take better care of yourself
Opening up mental health at work conversations in the office without addressing any specific issues or confessing struggles can be a good start. If you are an activist in your company, consider starting with more general discussions and addressing something less grave, like dealing with stress or managing emotions, etc.
When your team builds trust, you may start getting onto more serious topics or even exchange more personal matters, for instance after a recharging weekend.
Talking about your mental health
When and if you feel comfortable bringing up your mental health at work, in front of your colleagues, you can adopt some strategies that will make it easier for you.
First and foremost, it may help to think about what you want to share and how you’re going to say it before you engage in a conversation. Keep in mind why you decided to tell your story in the first place and share as much as you’re comfortable.
Consider who you’d like to approach – you must feel comfortable disclosing your emotions or struggles. Choose a coworker you know will be able to stay empathetic and supportive. Opening up to someone who will only bring you down can throw you off the right track.
Before you talk to a group of teammates, try talking to someone one-on-one to build confidence and test how you feel after sharing. Be prepared for both positive and negative outcomes of disclosing – not everyone knows how to react or is well-educated on the topic.
Don’t expect a lot from one conversation. Take note of how it went, how people reacted, and which other points of discussion it brought up. Next time will be slightly easier for everyone, and you may find other colleagues opening up as well.
Supporting a fellow worker with mental health struggles
If you’ve learned one of your teammates is going through something and want to show your support, here is what you can do.
- Make yourself available for conversations – show them you care and are there to talk about anything if they need to
- Just be a good listener – most of the time, people don’t want to be “fixed”, they just want to get things off their chests and be heard. Sometimes that’s already a step towards healing.
- Be cautious of how you say things. You want your fellow workers to feel comfortable around you, and you don’t want to make insensitive comments or jokes.
- Do not make any assumptions. No need to guess what symptoms or diagnosis a co-worker may have, or how “well” they are doing on a given day.
- Confidentiality comes first. If someone opened up to you, keep it to yourself and let them decide who they wish to keep in the know.
Speaking up benefits everyone
Remember that starting the mental health talk is not wrong, but may help many people feel more comfortable around their colleagues at work. Addressing different issues or struggles among teammates can significantly improve interpersonal relationships in the company, and create a healthier work environment.
Talking about your vulnerabilities does not make you weak. Speaking up takes courage, and isn’t always easy. But if you choose to open up to the right people at the right time, you may well discover others can resonate with and support you.