Managing mental health is one of the most difficult struggles for workplaces, especially in 2021 after one of the most difficult years our country and our workplaces ever experienced.

Quarantining during Covid-19 caused rates of loneliness to rise. This caused more burnout and sadly, suicide. Being isolated was one of the biggest sources of mental health issues during Covid.  

On top of all of that stress, overwork was another huge problem. One example was that of moms of school-aged children, who worked extra long hours, attempting to keep up with not only their own work but that of their children.  

And then, the issue of increased job losses caused volumes of financial worries for millions of workers.  

Even before Covid struck, mental health issues were plaguing the workplace to the tune of $300 billion annually in turnover, absenteeism, productivity, and medical costs.  

Helping people overcome mental health issues is continuing to be a concern since many people do not want to be labelled as mentally ill. While one in four adults experience mental illness or addiction each year, less than one-third seek treatment. This helps to explain why the stigma of mental health still exists.  

How do we overcome this issue of solving the mental health crisis?  

First, we need to address the stigma issue. Here are some examples of stigma-fighting campaigns:  

  • CEOs Against Stigma

The Massachusetts branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) launched the CEOs Against Stigma campaign in 2015, citing the role of CEOs as critical to creating a stigma-free environment. As the leader of a corporate culture, the CEO is essential to creating change in the workplace.  

  • Lead by Example

Prudential Financial’s Chief Medical Officer, Andy Crighton worked to eliminate stigma by encouraging executives who were experiencing challenges to talk about their depression in front of their staff members. Leading by example in this way gives the staff the freedom and ease to follow suit. It also sends a message that it is okay to talk openly about depression, without judgment.  

  • Coaching Managers

Prudential develops trust in and support for the workforce by coaching managers to not be afraid to talk about difficult mental health issues. Many employees are not aware of all the company benefits, especially mental health benefits, such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs hiring contract psychologists who are available by phone appointments.  

  • Are You Okay?

EY (formerly Ernst & Young) is attacking stigma by creating a program called “Are You Okay” after Bill Schlegel, a managing director’s wife committed suicide. After this devastating blow anxiety began to affect his work relationships and eventually his team began to notice. Rather than sweeping the issue under the carpet, they begin to ask him if he was okay. That blossomed into a company-wide campaign to teach managers how to recognize signs of mental health problems and then to address issues by showing concern. When someone is having a problem, the manager is trained not to solve the problem, but rather to identify it, offer a listening ear, and other resources.  

What are the warning signs of a mental health issue? The American Psychiatric Association suggests the following:  

  • Dramatic sleep or appetite changes or decline in personal care
  • Mood changes – Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions or depressed feelings
  • Withdrawal – Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Drop in functioning – An unusual drop in functioning at work or social activities, such as difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain
  • Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
  • Apathy – Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity
  • Feeling disconnected – A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality
  • Illogical thinking – Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult
  • Nervousness – Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling
  • Unusual behavior – Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior  

How to help employees:

  • Employee Assistance Programs

As mentioned above EAP’s provide counseling services to employees facing work-related or personal problems. An EAP can help with issues such as substance use, interpersonal relationships, legal problems, financial difficulties, and other challenges.  

  • Controlling Workload

Ensuring that managers are striving to help employees manage their workload is another important solution. A good manager pays close attention to their employees and stays connected. A good manager spends enough time with their team so that they immediately know when a problem is brewing.  

  • Remote work

Another key to eliminating overwork is eliminating time on the road. During Covid company leaders who were previously against remote work found that working remotely was a viable option. It saves time and money for both employees and employers, and the use of virtual meeting platforms overcomes the issue of missing meetings.  

There are many ways to provide mental health support. Helping employees confront and hopefully overcome their mental health struggles is a critical component of any employee wellness program. When employees are able to perform at their best by tackling complex solutions with a high degree of creativity, then the organization thrives with higher levels of productivity, higher levels of customer satisfaction and a stronger bottom line.  


If your company is struggling with stress or burnout issues, get in touch to see how my Banish Burnout workshops can help. or 415.518.2202.