Mental health awareness at work: How to start the conversation

Stigma: a mark of shame or discredit  (Source: Merriam-Webster)

Mental Illness: a health condition involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Often associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities (Source: American Psychiatry Association)

Mental Health: a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his/her/[their] own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his/her/[their] community. (Source: WHO

How do these three ideas work together instead of against each other? 

The truth is: they don’t. 

We need to do better to remove the stigma from mental illness and focus more on mental health as a whole. Mental health is not simply the absence of illness, and mental illness is not the absence of mental health. However, we need to focus more on health, diagnosing illness, and finding ways to manage all without the stigma attached. 

How can we accomplish this? 

It starts with yourself and in the various avenues of your life: at home, at work, with your family, friends, with your community… the list goes on. Mental health is woven throughout your life and the truth is – it’s never a perfect balance. 

A person can only find their own ways to continue to be self-aware and open to what is going on in their mental state. Mental health is not an absence of mental illness; it’s how we take care of ourselves. Just like you would take care of your diet, or your heart, or make sure you’re getting enough exercise – the same goes for your mental health. 

We recognize mental health and wellness as an ongoing opportunity to encourage employees to be in tune with their mental state, so they can bring their best self to work each and every day. From paid sick and safety time that can be used for mental health, to wellness chats and employee champions that are there to listen, Brainlabs is inclusive and open to keeping its employees healthy beyond their physicality and into their mental space. 

This May, we participated in normalizing Mental Health Awareness with initiatives such as:

  • Weekly wellness chats for a “brain break” on topics including:
    • Identifying stressors and how to cope
    • Music and Mental health, where we discussed the power of music and created a playlist in real time 
    • Mental Well-Being Care 
  • Live yoga sessions
  • Team-sourced ‘Calming Cues’: words to calm and recenter 
  • Spring Day: No-meeting days to take some time outside and enjoy being tech-free 
  • A water challenge to encourage good hydration habits 
  • A walking challenge and fundraiser for the Mental Health Foundation
  • Encouraging Brainlabbers to develop #Tools2Thrive to support their mental health on an ongoing basis
  • A space for Brainlabbers to share their own mental health stories to break the stigma around these types of conversations in the workplace. 

Employers must focus on each employee as a whole – their most authentic and true selves. This includes their mental health, physical health, work style… all the little things that make every employee truly unique. Tackling mental health stigma looks different for everyone, but we all have one central goal: to take care of ourselves and each other. 

One week or one month of mental health awareness isn’t enough. 

How are we able to break the stigma in the workplace, and globally for that matter? 

Mental health and mental illness should not be a big red splotch that you wear and try to cover up. We are all responsible for how we talk about mental health and mental illness in our personal lives, in the workplace, in our community and in the world. This is not a conversation that expires at the end of a month, or at the end of a week, or even a day. It’s a constant conversation and journey that we are all on individually and collectively. 

Be vulnerable and open. 

Even in writing this post, I struggle with being open and vulnerable about my own mental health. It’s easy to write passionately around actionable items regarding mental health and wellness as a whole, but it really makes you key in on introspection and reflection.

Be vulnerable with me and assess your own mental health and meet yourself where you are. No judgement, no stigma, be real.

So, where can we start as individuals?

Ask yourself, in no particular order:

  1. How am I feeling today? A loaded question, I know!
  2. What is making me happy at this moment? 
  3. What am I looking forward to? 
  4. How have I been sleeping? 
  5. What am I grateful for? (Morning Gratitude video for some inspo!)

Spending a little time on your mental health daily is just like taking a quick jog, or doing a cardio workout. It’s a work-out for your mental health and to see how you are at the moment, where you were in the previous time and where you are hoping to be. 

One step at a time, we can each be kinder to ourselves and help normalize mental health awareness in the workplace.

Mental health matters. Take a moment. Take a breath. Be gentle with yourself. You’re worth it. 

For more information about mental health, here are some great resources: 

  • Mental Health America: crisis resources, discussion communities, and tips for mental health habits  
  • Right Direction: resources to identify and manage depression for yourself and your loved ones
  • NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): learn more about mental illness, signs and symptoms, help to find treatment
  • 7Cups: feeling alone and need a chat? Connect with a trained listener who can offer an ear.