“We can’t ignore it any longer, we must acknowledge and support our employees”
Often when an employee notifies us that they are having surgery or maybe they are currently pregnant, we rush to them with leave options, support, and well-defined programs to care for them in their time of need. Unfortunately, when it comes to the invisible conditions associated with mental health, the support can often be inconsistent, and in some instances, non-existent.
As HR departments rally around mental well-being and work diligently to create programs that support those who need help, there’s still an unfortunate stigma that surrounds mental health conditions.
For example, if you’re working in a small team, someone who is out because they are suffering from a mental health episode may receive negative reactions for their manager and co-workers. When you’re already working on a tight deadline, or you’re short-staffed, having someone out because they are mentally struggling often leads to microaggressions and negativity towards the affected employee. Because we can’t SEE the reason they are out of the office, we can’t always UNDERSTAND why they aren’t showing up.
How do we support our employees facing mental health challenges in the workplace? How do we know when and how to approach it?
Here are some warning signs:
- Noticeable change in demeanor (loud/erratic or dismissive/quiet).
- Loss of interest.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Irritable or on edge.
- Any change in behavior that leads you to believe they are unwell.
How do you support someone in the workplace who’s struggling?
- Notice that they are struggling, in these times they may feel alone and isolated.
- Listen to them, ask open-ended questions and seek to understand.
- Give positive affirmations when they express what they are dealing with.
- Notice how long they have been “different” or “off,” many of us can have a bad day, but often two weeks of consistently changed behaviors, may mean it’s time to step in with support.
- Offering them resources in a supportive and thoughtful manner, offering to take them to get support, and sharing stories about your struggles help to normalize and de-stigmatize mental health struggles.
If you have an opportunity to share your story with your co-workers, this level of transparency can lead to a dialogue that can truly save someone’s life. By creating psychologically safe environments for others, we allow them to bring their truest, most authentic selves to work. If you have a chance to help someone through a hard time, it can not only impact them today, it can set them on a path to healing.
Here are some resources you can share with someone who is struggling:
- Dial ‘988’ Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
- The New Mexico Peer-to-Peer Warmline 1-855-4NM-7100 (466-7100).
- If in a crisis, call the New Mexico Crisis Line at 1-855-662-7474 available 24/7 | Or text “NAMI” to 741741 for 24/7, confidential, free crisis counseling.
- Workplace EAP (Employee Assistance Program) Resources – ask your HR team for more information.
- Health Benefits – contact your insurance company for details and referrals to qualified professionals.
- The Healthy Workplaces Act allows you to take up to 64 hours annually to care for yourself or your family member, this provision includes mental illness.
Let’s all work to destigmatize mental health concerns. We need more allies in our personal and professional lives.