By Angela Civitella 

The topic of mental health is more important than ever. Thankfully, in the last decade, it has received more and more attention. People are more open about it. The stigma around it is subsiding. With all the great progress we’ve made, there is still more work to be done. This is particularly true in the workplace.

With World Mental Health Day just past, this is the perfect time to discuss mental health with your staff and even put some new policies in place. Make sure everyone in your organization is aware of the importance of mental health and let those who might be struggling know that they can feel safe, trusted and accepted.

More specifically, here are 10 ways to encourage and display compassion for your employees’ mental health:

1. Have a “Time-Out” Space. Everyone has experienced a situation where they feel under pressure and in a state of distress. This feeling can be magnified for those dealing with mental health issues. Having a secluded space at work where a person can quietly take a little time to themselves can provide relief in a private, dignified way. It can be a special room, cubicle, pod or anywhere specifically designated to help your staff gather their composure.

2. More Mental Health Days. Many companies, both big and small, are allotting a certain number of mental health days as part of an employee’s benefits package. This is important because it doesn’t disrupt or take away from an employee’s sick time. Whether it’s something as serious as anxiety or depression or something less urgent like just feeling a bit overwhelmed or stressed-out, it’s important for employees to know they have this time to deal with their mental health.

3. Solicit Lists of Special Needs. When onboarding new employees, an employer should consider asking for a list of any special needs the employee has and making reasonable accommodations. If there are any special signs of problems that can be proactively dealt with, as well as any contact information for family or health professionals, the employer should be made aware upfront. This will help prepare the employee’s workstation and environment to best suit their needs. Of course, this must be done in compliance with HIPAA and ADA guidelines.

4. Mum’s the Word. An employer should keep sensitive information confidential at all times. This helps to build trust for employees. An employee should be able to disclose relevant personal information to an employer without fear of gossip or discrimination from coworkers. Remember the Golden Rule of treating others how you want to be treated. You wouldn’t disclose personal information about someone, and neither should your employer.

5. Provide Resources. Your company should be aware of what resources may be available to employees with mental health issues. Many companies are affiliated with, or even have mental health professionals on staff to support employees. A list of other resources from the county, state and federal level may also be useful. In addition, there are some companies that are forming peer support groups where employees can confidentially support one another.

6. Open-Door Policy. Many people are reluctant to seek help or confide personal information to employers out of fear. New employees may not disclose mental health issues when hired, but trust can be built up over time. Having an open-door policy that allows employees to be able to speak to their employers at all times can help foster this trust and allow both sides to create an environment conducive to improved communication and accommodation.

7. Inclusion. It is important to include all employees, especially those with mental health issues, in activities related to work and even work-related social events. Nobody likes to feel left out and those struggling with mental health issues often already feel like they are “different” from everyone else. Be sure to not only offer but encourage their participation.

8. Everyday People. Everyday Expectations. An employer may feel like they need to treat someone who has mental health issues with kid gloves and set lower standards for them. While this concern is understandable, sometimes the best thing for a person with mental health issues is being treated like everyone else and shouldering their share of the responsibility. Not only will they feel like a true part of the team, but it may also help to show them that they are capable of more than they thought.

9. Push, but Don’t Try to Change. Helping someone work to get past their hurdles is admirable, but an employer should not try to take it upon themselves to try and change who the employee is or think they truly know what they are going through. An employer is likely not a therapist and should not try to take on that role. If an employee is capable of performing their tasks, an employer can always encourage them to strive for greater things. Never tell the employee that they are “cured” or they can “get over” their issues.

10. Lift Up and Slow Down. Ninety percent of communication is non-verbal and a person’s demeanor can set the tone for the entire workplace. As an employer, you may not always have the right words to say to help an employee with mental health issues, but your attitude can make a big difference. Slow down when possible while talking to help set a relaxing tone. This helps to reduce stress and keep things moving smoothly. Also project a positive aura and let a cool, confident smile be a beacon to employees and show them that the seas are calmer than they may think.

Angela Civitella is an executive, a business leadership coach and the founder of Intinde (www.intinde.com).

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