Starting the Conversation on Mental Health at Work

Starting the Conversation on Mental Health at Work

David Malmborg
April 5, 2024
October 9, 2022

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month! May is an excellent time for your company to hone in on supporting employee wellbeing. Read on for ways to observe Mental Health Awareness Month and start a conversation on mental health in your workplace.

This blog post summarizes our conversation with Haeli Harris, Lead Clinician at Nivati and Marriage and Family Therapist, and Joseph Draschil, former CXO at Nivati. We kicked off Mental Health Awareness Month with a live stream event on starting the conversation on mental health in your workplace.

You can watch the entire conversation here:

How to Observe Mental Health Awareness Month

Haeli recommends that companies focus on three main things throughout Mental Health Awareness Month:

  1. Mental health awareness
  3. Mental health education
  5. Reducing the stigma around mental health

The more we talk about mental health, the more we fight the negative stigma.

Companies can address these three areas for Mental Health Awareness month in many ways—workshops, wellness lunch and learns, and mental health programs, to name a few. But the tried-and-true approach that we are a big fan of is sharing authentic, personal mental health stories with your team.

It's normal for this to feel uncomfortable. Being vulnerable is hard, especially when many of us were taught to hide our struggles from others, especially at work. Remember that this vulnerability is crucial for your own healing. Plus, it can help people get the support they need from others.

Mental health is too important to ignore, with 1 in 4 people struggling with a diagnosable mental illness.

Personal Mental Health Stories

Here are a couple of mental health story examples to inspire you before sharing your mental health story with your team.

Haeli Harris, Lead Clinician at Nivati

"In my late 20s, I started struggling with my mental health a lot more. I came to find out I had a mental health disorder, and I actually denied it for a while. I avoided addressing it and avoided professional support for it. I struggled a lot until I finally decided it was time to get help."

"So I went, got some help, got my meds, and then I decided to go back to school to become a therapist."

"I truly think since I've gone through my own mental health journey, it has helped me to be a better therapist because I truly understand what people are going through when they're struggling with mental health."

Joseph Draschil, Chief Experience Officer at Nivati

"One of the things I struggle with is ADHD. And my wife struggles with depression. Several years ago, she was talking about it in regular conversation, and people were shocked."

Yet, she could tell that they were thinking: "What are you doing?! Don't talk about that!"

"She said it in such nonchalance, and you'd be surprised how many people started talking about it [their personal mental health]."

The Definition of Mental Health

A common misconception is that if you mention "mental health," it means you are struggling.

In reality, we all have mental health, just like physical health.

"Mental health is how we cope in life, how we are a member in our community, how we interact and socialize... all that is part of mental health," explains Haeli.

Another emerging term is "mental fitness": being able to climb mountains when they come, even if they aren't on our own terms, says Joseph.

Everyone can benefit from working on their mental fitness. It helps us build resilience so we can face stressful situations when they come.  Chances are, many of your employees aren't aware of what mental health even is. Talking about the definition of mental health at work is a great way to create awareness around mental health and start educating employees on ways they can support this area of their wellbeing.

Related: Mental Health vs Mental Illness: What’s the Difference?

Tips on Building Mental Fitness at Work

Here are five things you can teach employees to help them boost their mental health and mental fitness, even while they are at work.

1. Have Healthy Boundaries

Starting the Conversation on Mental Health at Work-two men standing outside holding mugs and talking (1)

"That means I have work hours. I really make sure I am not working past when I should for my mental health. If I'm at a high-stress level, boundaries also include being able to say, 'I can't take that on right now,' or 'Yes, I can do that, but I can't do that right now. I will need some more time.'... really vocalizing your needs. Boundaries are #1 when it comes to stress."

Start a conversation around setting boundaries by:

  • Setting the example. Have set working hours and stick to them. Don't answer messages outside your working hours.
  • Have managers talk to their employees about it. It can be as simple as saying: "I care about your wellbeing. I only expect you to work 9-5. If you feel overwhelmed, please tell me so we can revisit your priorities and workload."
  • Encourage employees to take breaks. Whenever you take a midday break for your mental health, take a picture and share it with your team. This will open the door to employees doing the same.

2. Taking Time to Yourself

Haeli explains that this ties into having boundaries. "If I'm really stressed, especially at work, I'm going to find more time throughout the day to take care of myself. So I'm going to take five-minute breaks here and there to go do some breathing or go walk outside, and make sure I cut work off at the end of the day and go do my thing."

Plus, taking breaks at work can actually increase productivity and creativity.

3. Remember That You Are Your Biggest Critic

Joseph highlights that it's essential to keep in mind that you are likely much harder on yourself than anyone else is.

"Oftentimes, we are a lot harder on ourselves than other people are. Hold ourselves accountable to taking timeouts regularly, and then not feeling bad about it."

You can combat self-criticism in the workplace by working to create a culture of feedback.

4. Check In With Yourself

Mindfulness and journaling are two of Joseph's favorite ways to check in with himself throughout the workday. It's an opportunity to slow down and reflect on your thought life and any stressors you are facing.

"It's all about learning the triggers that can lead towards negative thinking or negative feeling, which can lead to waves of challenges."

Managers can have employees do a professional check-in at the end of every week, and encourage them to do a personal self check-in at the same time.

5. Exercise

While it may be difficult to find time to exercise, it is important for mental health (and overall wellbeing) to make it a priority. It will help employees have the energy to face life's challenges.

Your company can help make finding time to exercise easier for employees by allowing them to take a walk while on Zoom meetings.

How to Start the Conversation on Mental Health

There are two main ways the conversation at work can start:

  1. Peer to peer
  3. Manager to direct report

"Everyone will take the cue of vulnerability from the leader," states Joseph. "So whether or not you feel comfortable being vulnerable, you need to be vulnerable."

Otherwise, employees won't feel safe sharing their stories. People will realize they aren't alone, and deeper community connections with blossom.

Get started by sharing your mental health story this Mental Health Awareness Month and take little steps to spread awareness.

Get to know Haeli and Joseph and learn more about talking about mental health at work in this live stream recording. You catch us for our other live streams throughout Mental Health Awareness month by following us on Linkedin.

Stop stacking benefits. Start being well. Set a Nivati demo


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David Malmborg
David Malmborg