employer and employee discussing mental health awareness

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

By Nicole Arzt is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in providing psychotherapy for individuals, families, and groups struggling with substance use disorders and psychiatric illnesses.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

employer and employee discussing mental health awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness month, but awareness does not always translate appropriately when it comes to professional work settings. A recent study by Glamour found that nearly one-third of women feel their mental health impacts their job performance.

Due to stigma, fear, and negative prior experiences, many employees feel uncomfortable disclosing mental health struggles in the workplace. However, this secrecy can weigh down on people and even exacerbate the symptoms they're trying so hard to conceal.

If you want to be more open about your mental health at work, you need to identify why it's important for you to do so.

How can employees feel more comfortable sharing their feelings at the office? And how can employers provide support and compassion?

Let's get into it.

Understanding Common Mental Illnesses

Below are some of the most common mental illnesses.


The leading cause of disability in the U.S for people ages 15-44 is depression.

Depression can entail numerous symptoms including irritability, hopelessness, deep sadness, and apathy. Depression can affect an individual's motivation or willingness to engage in certain tasks. In its severe form, it can lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior.


Anxiety disorders affect 40 million Americans adults every yearencompassing fear, worry, hypervigilance, and restlessness.

Many people with anxiety struggle with "constant thinking" that doesn't seem to stop. In its severe form, anxiety can result in debilitating panic attacks, social withdrawal, and self-harming/suicidal behaviors.

Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders refer to problematic use of drugs or alcohol. This condition may develop slowly and innocently, but it is progressive. Over time, the individual becomes more dependent, which results in more problems.

Tips For Employees

It always helps to have additional support for your mental health. This support may include therapists, psychiatrists, and even trusted friends and partners.

Identify Your Needs

If you want to be more open about your mental health at work, you need to identify why it's important for you to do so. Do you need to take some personal time off? Do you have a recurring therapy appointment that requires you leaving the office?

Identify your intentions for telling your boss. Doing so will help you to collaborate for the best solutions.

Present Your Solutions First

Disclosing your mental health condition can be overwhelming for both you and your employer. That's why it's essential that you identify and share the solutions you have for taking care of yourself and, if necessary, taking care of your job.

For example, if you need to take personal leave, are you able to find coverage for your daily tasks? If you need time for a recurring therapy appointment, are you able to come into the office a bit earlier on that day?

Remember that you presenting viable solutions makes your boss's job easier as well. If you come in only sharing the problem, you both may end up leaving the conversation feeling helpless.

Consult With HR

Perhaps you don't have the best working relationship with your boss. Or, maybe, you don't feel comfortable with your boss knowing your personal situation.

If that's the case, consulting with human resources (HR) may be your best course of action. HR cannot disclose your reasons for medical accommodations if you request confidentiality.

If you need time off, you can work with HR and a physician to fill out the necessary Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork and other disability paperwork.

Tips For Employers

Smart business leaders know that healthy employees are generally more productive, engaged, and efficient at work. Therefore, accommodating mental health needs shouldn't be a luxury; it should be a core tenant of your work environment.

Be A Role Model

Even if it may seem uncharacteristic, many people respect an employer who can show humility and honesty.

You are not a robot. The more you can reveal your "human" side, the more your employees may feel encouraged to do so. That means talking about your own fears or stresses.

It also means showing how you take care of yourself (i.e., going to the gym after work, eating healthy meals, talking about how you decompress on the weekends).

Encourage Work-Life Balance

Overworked employees tend to face higher rates of burnout, low self-esteem, and mental health issues.

As a boss, you can make a difference in encouraging work-life balance. Are flexible hours an option? Can your employees telecommute? Better yet, have any of your employees come forward and told you what they'd like?

Reach Out To Employees

Has an overly chipper employee suddenly become more morose and apathetic? Have you noticed one of your top performers procrastinating and turning in sloppier work?

Any of these changes may indicate mental health issues. While it's not your job to make assumptions, you can make a profound difference by reaching out and showing your concern.

Start by pointing out certain changes in behavior. Don't judge them or draw conclusions. Let the employee know that you have acknowledged them and you are here to help if needed.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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