Why Your Organization Should Value Mental Health Literacy


Sarah Acree

In recent years, addressing mental health in the workplace has taken the spotlight. More and more, people are looking to their employers to create a culture that values employee wellness. This makes mental health literacy–the understanding of mental well-being and how to address concerns–an important key to an organization’s success.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans agree that talking about mental health in the workplace is acceptable, but often, leaders are not equipped to navigate these delicate conversations. This can quickly become a problem when employees open up and their coworkers are unprepared. Supervisors are often the first line of support for an employee’s mental health as many adults spend the majority of their time at work.

“You cannot underscore the importance of managers in addressing employee mental health,” says Michelle Kees, Ph.D., clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Michigan Medicine and a Workplace Mental Health Solutions team member at the Eisenberg Family Depression Center. “When a manager knows the tools available, they can help staff members facing mental health challenges find the support they need before they reach a tipping point. Burnout is a national concern, especially among mid-level employees, and companies that value employee well-being see retention rates improve and productivity increase across the entire team.”

A supportive, mentally healthy culture can positively impact a company's bottom line. Without one, it’s a different story. When workers do not feel supported in the workplace, they often seek new roles or organizations that will prioritize their well-being. This turnover can prove costly to employers.

“When employees leave, it takes significant time and resources to replace them,” Kees explains. Not only are companies paying for the costs of onboarding, but turnover increases the workloads of the remaining staff members who now need to compensate for the missing employees and train new staff members. This also can lead to burnout, becoming a challenging cycle.

So, how do workplaces improve mental health in the workplace? Increasing mental health literacy is a start.

"Mental health issues can affect anyone, in any field, at any time," Kees says. Mental health concerns usually manifest as small changes in behavior, not obvious signs. If you notice decreases in productivity, changes in work patterns, lower engagement, or changes in interpersonal style, it's time to speak up.

Broaching the subject can be challenging or uncomfortable, but there are techniques that may make the conversation a little easier. Start with open-ended questions, Kees suggests. Encourage employees by asking them what they think or to tell you more. And importantly, do so in an environment that is safe and confidential. When employees do open up, validating their emotions can go a long way. Pay attention to their verbal and nonverbal cues and reflect upon what they’ve shared.

Leaders need to ensure their organizations are given the education they need to have these meaningful conversations and are aware of their available resources. When it comes to workplace mental health, there are a variety of solutions, and an organization’s approach should be multifaceted. Options include surveying staff to address their needs, connecting them with free mental health resources, providing access to training, and system-wide strategies, like employee resource groups or adjustments to your benefits package that make employee well-being a priority.

It only takes one person to create a positive shift changing an entire organization's culture, and having a conversation is the first step.

To learn more about how your workplace can better support employee mental health, visit depressioncenter.org/workplace.