Mental health concerns, which will affect 1 in 5 Canadians in their lifetime, undoubtedly impact the workplace. The social perception that mental health struggles are not real, are a choice or are untreatable continue to spread the negative connotation of mental health. The stigma of mental health is often a barrier for individuals seeking help, which can perpetuate the symptoms of mental health concerns. From absenteeism to decreased productivity to high stress levels, mental health concerns arise daily and require a mental health strategy to be fully addressed. Mental health affects every workplace and appropriate prevention and intervention can foster a positive work culture. Efficiency, productivity and employee well-being should be addressed as soon as possible, as a forward-focused workplace has a positive effect on motivation and engagement. (Learn more in 10 Effective Mental Health Tools To Improve Your Employees' Resilience and Job Performance). Here are some ways to be part of the change and to diminish the stigma of mental health in the workplace.

Don't Be Afraid To Talk About Mental Health

Many people feel that it's taboo to discuss mental health issues — however, being open and honest about mental health is the only way to erase that stigma. Engaging in conversations with openness and inquiring about people's unique experience will begin to reduce the stigma so workers can come forward with mental health concerns openly and seek the help they need.

Discussions about mental health can occur in staff meetings, via newsletters or on an individual basis. Working to prevent mental health issues begins with knowing the signs of mental health concerns. These signs include increased sensitivity, inability to concentrate, acting out of character, a drop in job performance, exhaustion, decreased motivation, or a change in appearance. Although these are not necessarily mental health-related, bringing these signs up with employees opens the conversation and reassures employees that they are in a safe work environment.

Support Employees Who Require Time Off For Mental Health Concerns

It may only take a few days or weeks for employees to recalibrate their balance. If possible, allow employees to work from home to decrease barriers to employees accomplishing their work. Offer employees external support for their mental health through employee-assisted counselling services or provide information regarding other external counselling services accessible to employees. (Learn more in Supporting Employee Mental Health in the Workplace).

Early intervention in mental health and the normalization of seeking help is imperative in eliminating the stigma of mental health concerns in the workplace. While engaged at work, ensure employees are empowered to take appropriate rest breaks, and to take breaks away from their desk where they get some fresh air and exercise.

Develop A Policy Specifically About Mental Health

Employers may find it useful to develop a policy specifically regarding mental health so employees know they're protected in coming forward with their mental health concerns. Reviewing employee job descriptions to ensure employees are reasonably able to meet their job expectations can relieve stress for employees.

If employees do require time off to address their mental health concerns, workplaces should provide follow-up discussions upon the employee's return. When an individual is experiencing a mental health concern, they may withdraw or take an unusual amount of time off work. Individuals may have faced discrimination or even job loss for experiencing mental illness in the past, so workplaces should be transparent with their policies and protections for individuals experiencing mental health concerns. It can be beneficial for employers to collaborate with their employees in co-creating a job plan that works for both.

Create A Culture Of Support

Creating a culture of support is integral to reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health concerns. With peer and supervisory support, individuals can process mental-health related concerns and provide the relational protection helpful in enduring mental health concerns. Colleagues giving peer-to-peer support can dismantle the stigma of mental health, while also strengthening internal support available to employees.

Additionally, regularly scheduled Human Resources follow ups can ensure mental health concerns do not go unnoticed. Resiliency, the ability to withstand stressful experiences, is known to be bolstered through relationships. Consequently, mental health concerns can be positively affected by relationships with peers, colleagues, human resources and supervisors. Feeling safe in their workplace allows individuals to seek the help they need and reduces the stigma felt by people experiencing mental health concerns.

Develop A Healthy Workplace Culture

Since mental health concerns are often exasperated in times of high stress, it is important to strive to develop a healthy workplace environment. Stressors can arise in a worker's personal life but can still affect their job performance. Workplaces should strategize for an ideal work-life balance, as is appropriate for the job, as well as open conversation around self-care strategies. Self-care can be an integral protective factor against mental illness, particularly when an individual is negatively influenced by stress.

It is important for an employer to have procedures in place to intervene in these situations and directly address the concern so that they can accommodate the employee's needs. Directly asking an employee what they need can be an empowering experience for the person to reflect on their need to be healthy. Wellness programs can be implemented alongside work activities, such as offering lunch yoga or meditations, or starting each day with a check-in.

The Impact Of Reducing The Stigma

Since work encompasses such a large part of our lives, mental health obviously affects a person's identity and capacity to work. The elimination of mental health's stigma is imperative in creating a work environment where employees are happy and healthy. Employers can focus on the prevention and intervention of mental health concerns through openness, transparency and support. By emphasizing open discussion about mental health, symptoms can be addressed early, limiting the effects of mental health concerns on work performance. Through internal and external support, workplaces can be part of dismantling the stigma of mental health concerns.