The workplace is an important environment to discuss mental health and illness, yet it can be the last place we expect to hear about it. Some may find themselves afraid of discussing such topics with co-workers and bosses for fear of damaging relationships, bringing on judgement, or even risking future opportunities. The stigma of mental illness can often keep us silent.
Dr. Francie Broghammer, Chief Resident at UC Irvine Health’s Department of Psychiatry, tackles how to address mental health in the workplace and how to help someone who may be struggling.
Q: How do you address mental health as a leader?
A: It’s important to recognize all conversations around mental health as a normal conversation. Remember the person in front of you is a human, no matter what they are going through, and chances are you can relate in some way shape or form.
Q: What are some red flags to look for if you think someone is struggling?
A: Change in functions. If they were vibrant, outgoing, and social before and now seem quiet with a change in performance or are late with assignments or projects, then that’s something to look into. Even a change of voice on social media can hint at the fact that something bigger is going on.
Q: What is mental health?
A: Mental health is how your body is reacting to the environment around it and ranges from terms we’ve often heard like depression, OCD, PTSD, anxiety and so on. Every single person falls on the spectrum.
Q: Why is it important for companies to have programs around mental health?
A: First and foremost, your employees are people and having a program around mental health is the correct and ethical thing to do. You will have less burn out, less turn over, and you’ll be able to interact with your employees on human level. This brings a sense of cohesion and culture within your company allowing your employees to perform better…physically, and mentally. When things get hard, company culture and having leaders that truly care about you is what keeps people around.
Q: How do you start a conversation about mental health?
A: Be curious, and remember, you don’t have to solve the problem. You’re going into the conversation to understand your fellow human being and to see where they are mentally. This will give you a better window into their life, and that is a success. Take the weight of solving the problem off of your shoulders.
Q: What are some active listening tips?
A: On average, if you let a person tell their story, they will talk for 2 minutes. By comparison, for example, physicians usually interrupt within the first 18 seconds. Challenge yourself, how long can you go without talking? Be comfortable with the silence. Your main goal is to be there for your employee. It’s helpful sometimes to be able to provide a summary after you’ve listened and say “does that sound right?” Now you know you are both on the same page.
Q: How can a leader help with stress and anxiety?
A: Ask them what they think is a good next step. How many times have you talked to a leader, and they list various things that they think would help employees be less stressed but actually makes them more stressed. People won’t be committed unless it’s coming from within.
Q: How can a leader help someone with complex mental health issues or in crisis?
A: HR can an awesome place to turn to if your company has that capability. If you have benefits programs, you can suggest the employee reach out to their insurer for emergency options or to contact your Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). There are also crisis phone numbers that work nationwide to call if someone is in danger. Normalize this effort and let your employee know they are not being penalized. Let them know you care about them, and that you’re in this together.