We know that an inclusive workspace starts from the top with leaders setting the tone and acting as a model for their employees to follow and embrace. This begins with a wider understanding of the issues at hand.
Corporate diversity and inclusion efforts should ensure a focus on inclusivity and accessibility to people with disabilities and similar challenges. Mental health falls into that arena.
Mental health concerns are wide ranging, and some are more manageable than others. Whether someone is dealing with anxiety, depression, or something else, everybody experiences a mental health issue, on some level, at some point in their working lives. When people do go through this, they need support from leaders and colleagues, not to be ignored or to have the problem compounded by inappropriate behaviors.
So, how can leadership make workplaces more inclusive to those living with mental health concerns? The first step is education and understanding.
Understanding Mental Health
There has been a stigma around mental health for a very long time and it absolutely affects treatment. Most of the time, people do not hesitate to consult a doctor if they’ve broken a bone or think they have the flu. However, this is not the case with mental health treatment.
Many are ashamed to seek treatment or talk about their mental health struggles. They fear judgement and often think they are alone in their struggle. They are often in good company, though. Michael Page’s partner BHS, which offers workplace well-being and employees assistance programs, shared some of the following data with us:
- About 20% of adults in the US live with mental illness in any given year.
- About 5% of adults in the US have a serious mental illness that negatively impacts at least one aspect of their life.
- 42 million adults in the US live with an anxiety disorder of some kind.
Even with all of these people experiencing similar things, some still feel like they are alone and therefore try to cope on their own.
Leaders in businesses have an opportunity to decrease the stigma and help employees to seek the help they need. There are many ways to do this, some more complex than others.
Adjusting Our Language
Words have power, and some words can be used to further the stigma around mental illness regardless of the intention. The good news is that adjusting our language can have the reverse effect – it can help to normalize mental health.
Here are some small changes we can make to help us use more inclusive language:
- Use person-first language: Simply put, this means using mental illness as a noun and not an adjective. Instead of saying, “That person is bipolar,” you would say, “They have bipolar disorder.” This means that the person is not defined by their mental illness, it is just a part of their life.
- Refrain from using inaccurate language: In many cases, society have usurped language around mental health to describe unrelated things. For example, some call unpredictable weather “bipolar,” or describe themselves as “OCD” because they like to keep things tidy. This can minimalize, and sometimes trivialize, actual mental illness.
- Avoid using “crazy” or similar adjectives: Similarly, calling someone “crazy,” “insane,” or “psychotic” can contribute to the stigma around actual mental illness. It can also deeply hurt someone who is battling their mental illness symptoms.
- Don’t dismiss the struggle: If an employee is telling you about their experience with mental health, don’t say things like, “We’ve all been there,” or, “Just push through it.” Instead, be supportive and use understanding language such as, “I’m here if you need anything,” or, “How can I help?” This will help you to give the employee the aid they need.
Managers are not going to be able to help every employee who needs mental health treatment, nor should they try. A manger’s responsibility is to provide emotional support and create an open environment. Actual treatment and further support will come from professionals.
Leaders who want to be helpful can point employees in the direction of resources. This means managers should be well-educated about EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs), what mental health options are included in company insurance, and any other resources the company may have available.
Once that piece is taken care of, leaders should continue to offer emotional support. They can check in with employees and make reasonable accommodations if they need time for therapy or other treatment.
These steps are a great way to start working towards an inclusive workplace where employees at all levels feel valued and cared for. For more information about mental health, please view our diversity and inclusion page, or browse more of our advice section.