Why is it so uncomfortable to talk about mental health in the workplace? Most of the time, it is because we are afraid we will be judged, seen as “less than,” or not seen as capable of being promoted. Unfortunately, in some work environments, that is the sad reality.
From a leadership perspective, I think there is a certain discomfort with having those kinds of conversations in the workplace. We might think, “I am not an expert. What if I say the wrong thing? This was not part of my managerial training. Let me refer them to the company’s EAP program or mental health resources and let them handle it.”
Many companies have at least one question on their annual employee survey asking whether employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health in their work environment. Often that is one of the lowest-scoring items on the survey. Then, well-intentioned managers create action plans to address this feedback, which consists of ensuring their employees know how to access the company’s resources or wellness training found in the learning management system.
The problem is not a lack of information. The problem is the lack of personal courage as leaders. When we feel uncomfortable having those conversations as leaders, we often want to assign that “activity” to someone else. Brene Brown says, “Brave leaders are never silent about hard things.” What does that say about us as leaders when we avoid emotional connection with our employees?
It is interesting that the insecurity employees express about sharing their mental health concerns with their manager are often the same insecurities we experience as leaders. Leaders feel insecure about sharing their mental health struggles and journey with their teams because they don’t want to be judged or have their capability to lead questioned.
The leaders I respect the most are the ones that share their mental health struggles openly and also model how to handle these struggles when they come up. You don’t need to go into detail about the struggles with people to communicate the impact those struggles are having on your ability to perform.
At this point in my healing journey, I am pretty open about sharing my mental health challenges with peers and other leaders. I find that rather than judging me or looking down on me for sharing my struggles, people often have greater respect for the courage I’ve shown in being transparent and vulnerable.
To my fellow leaders, I challenge you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to show up for your employees, and to hold space for their struggles and pain. You don’t need a Master’s degree in counseling to listen and ask, “How can I help?”
To my fellow coworkers, I want to tell you that you don’t have to struggle alone. You are not alone. You are not the only one who struggles with anxiety, depression, trauma, or other mental health concerns. We heal in the context of community. Will you be courageous in asking for help? Will you trust the people you’ve built relationships with to hold space for your struggles? We all need help sometimes. You are not broken, incompetent, or “less than”…you are human.
I see you. I hear you. YOU MATTER. I care.
Believer. Leader. Learner. Advocate. Writer. Speaker. Coach. Mentor. Triathlete. Encourager. Survivor.
Most of all, I am a fellow traveler on the rocky road called, Trauma Recovery. My mission is to minimize the effects of trauma for survivors in the workplace.