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Are we any more able to talk about mental health in work?

Diane Hall


Blue head on red background with white jigsaw pieces

Go back a few decades and you wouldn’t have brought up the subject of poor mental health with your workmates for fear of being laughed at or being seen as weak/unable to do your job.

So, how far have we come in 2021? Is it okay to talk about mental health with your employer and colleagues, or is there still a stigma attached to the subject?

There’s no doubt that the general public are more familiar with mental health issues than their great-grandparents would have been. It’s mentioned in the media all the time; numerous campaigns help to ensure the subject is no longer taboo; and our laws are continually tightened to eradicate any discrimination concerning mental health.

Despite these efforts, according to a 2019 survey, three times more employees feel comfortable talking about their physical health in the workplace than their mental health. Only 14% of the 2,000 respondents would be happy to discuss their state of mind at work.

Talking about mental health issues within medical settings and with friends and family is perhaps much easier in 2021. However, there’s still a fear that being honest about any mental health struggles at work would be viewed as not being able to cope with the job—and that the individual could even lose it if they voiced their feelings.

Whilst we may all enjoy good times, no one is immune to bad luck or life taking an unfortunate turn. Poor mental health can be an element of a long-term condition, but it can also stem from unforeseen, adverse situations that anyone could face, at any time.

In an ideal world, mental health would be treated in the same way as physical health. I’d imagine there’d be nothing but concern if a team-mate or colleague was diagnosed with cancer, and it should be the same scenario if their diagnosis was bipolar disorder, for example.

mental health matters on black board next to some decorative shapes

mental health matters on black board next to some decorative shapes

So, how do you make your workplace more inclusive in this regard? How do you foster the sort of company culture that invites employees to discuss their mental health without fear of judgement from their workmates or unfavourable treatment from their manager?

Here are our three top tips:


Sometimes, judgement comes from a lack of understanding and knowledge. If your employees are likely to make unfair and untrue assumptions about mental health, it’s good practice as their employer to offer training on the subject. This will help anyone suffering from poor mental health to recognise whether they’re in need of support and where they can access this. It will also remove some the stigma around the topic and hopefully encourage people to talk about it more.

First aid

Just as you would appoint an individual to be the first aider in response to physical accidents and ailments, put a mental health first aider in place, too, who could recognise common signs of poor mental health in individuals and signpost them to the correct organisations/support. And, just as you’d invest in a ‘physical’ first aider by sending them on in-depth, specialist training courses, ensure your mental health first aider is up to date with current practices and approaches, as well as any changes to the wider support infrastructure.

Ensure managers are approachable

Not just approachable, but relatable, too. You can’t foster a healthy working culture if the team leader/manager is held aloft as this perfect being who never suffers from any physical or mental ailment, who never feels negative, who never makes mistakes. We’re all human, and a manager that employees can relate to, and feel comfortable talking to, will be better for your bottom line. Dictatorships went out with the dodo; if employees feel valued and listened to, they will be more productive and loyal, both of which have a positive impact on the finances and future of a company. Managers should exist to support their teams, whether they’re having physical or mental health problems. They need to set the example—if team members see their manager treating mental health issues as everyday occurrences, they will too.

You may be lucky in that you’ve never experienced any dip in your mental health or any real adversity in life. That doesn’t mean to say you’re immune, though—who knows what’s around the corner? Imagine having to deal with an upsetting, stressful issue and encountering a lack of support from your colleagues—we spend a lot of our time at work, so think about how disappointing and isolating that would feel. Foster a positive, supportive culture around mental health now, because you don’t know what people are going through…someone you know may be in dire need of help right now.

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