How Managers Can Have a Conversation on Mental Health Insights from Natasha Bowman - employees talking behind laptop at work

How Managers Can Have a Conversation on Mental Health: Insights from Natasha Bowman

David Malmborg
May 26, 2022
October 9, 2022

Warning: This blog post mentions suicide.

We had an incredible conversation with Natasha Bowman, an advocate and champion for workplace equity and founder of The Bowman Foundation for Workplace Equity and Mental Wellness.

Read on to learn more about Bowman, her mental health story, and how managers can talk to their employees about mental health.

Check out the entire conversation below:

Natasha Bowman's Story

Bowman is trained as an attorney but has spent most of her career in the HR space improving workplaces. Her firm Performance RENEW helps companies improve their cultures.

In 2020, Bowman's career focus took a humungous shift. Just like many others, Bowman's life was put "on hold."

"What I did not know, sitting here, doing nothing, is that my brain had not been trained to abstain from doing things. And so, it started going haywire. It started doing things it had never done before, thinking thoughts it had never thought of before. According to my husband, my speech really started to speed up where he could barely understand me, I was going back and forth between being very happy and very sad and teary... it was very strange and unique for me."

Bowman started to see a therapist virtually, and her company started doing better than ever before. But Bowman didn't start to feel better. In fact, things seemed to get worse—and no one seemed to be able to figure out what was going on.

In January of 2021, Bowman attempted suicide. She was involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Suddenly, it all started to make sense.

"Once I was able to do some research on that [bipolar disorder], it explained a lot of things. That's why I could work days at a time, I didn't need sleep, I could work multiple jobs at a time... It also explained those days where I couldn't get out of bed."

Like many diagnosed with a mental health disorder, Bowman experienced a whirlwind of emotions. Guilt, shame, confusion...

The reality is that 1 in 5 people suffers from diagnosable mental illnesses and that mental health is just as important as physical health.

The knowledge that Bowman wasn't alone helped her pull out of the "pain, blame, and shame" mindset she had fallen into. She was able to connect more deeply to herself, which allows her to connect more deeply with others.

Bowman has worked with her therapist to find a medication and routine that works for her so she can manage her bipolar disorder and still be her authentic self.

How Managers Can Talk To Employees About Mental Health

Managers have been trained to direct employees with mental health challenges to HR or the company EAP. This removes managers very quickly from the conversation when in reality managers need to be a part of the ongoing mental health conversation.

Employee telling manager about a physical issue, why is mental health any different?

"It's very important that your manager is a part of your support system... [that is] a thing an EAP can't give you."

In the past, managers were usually told not to talk about mental health with their direct reports since that may influence how managers evaluate their people. Plus, a lot of managers worry about overly stressing employees with mental illnesses, so the employee may lose opportunities to be promoted. "But they [employees] are receiving that as 'I am not enough, there's something wrong with me.'"

If employees hear this same message from their managers, family, and friends, employees may start to have lower productivity, and their mental health condition may worsen.

Bowman stresses the importance of getting support from a professional, following your treatment plan, and building a support system that helps you feel capable—and that the employer has a role in the process.

To learn more about Bowman's story and insights on workplace mental health, check out her book: The Power of One: Leading With Civility, Candor, and Courage

This blog post was inspired by a live stream event by Nivati. You can watch the recording below. Follow us on Linkedin to stay in the loop on future live stream events.

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David Malmborg
David Malmborg