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How to Communicate Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Caitlin Kirwan

External Contributor - Internal Comms & Engagement Expert

23 Aug 2023

Read on to find actionable guidance and resources to help HR and IC professionals communicate mental health awareness at work.

Despite making significant progress over the last five years, it can be difficult to know how to build a mental health communication strategy that’s right for your organization. And with World Suicide Prevention Day just around the corner, many HR and internal communication professionals are turning their attention toward amplifying the mental health conversation. This blog is here to help!  

Unless your organization is seriously ahead of time and is staffed by a workforce of robots or genetically modified parrots, the chances are you probably work with other humans. 

And every single human ‘has’ mental health, just like physical health. 

The World Health Organization estimates that 15% of the world’s employees are living with a mental health disorder at any point in time and that 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety alone. 

This blog discusses the importance of talking about wellbeing in the workplace, explores the best ways to communicate mental health awareness at work, and shares three ideas for World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September.

Why is it important to talk about mental health in the workplace?   

Every organization wants its employees to be engaged, happy, and healthy to enable them to perform at their best. But mental health issues are often misunderstood or overlooked by employers, making employees less likely to seek help and putting them at risk of discrimination. 

Open communication about mental health in the workplace helps build awareness and understanding, which creates a positive working environment that promotes employee engagement and wellbeing. And making wellbeing a key part of your internal communication strategy leads to: 

✅ Lower employee turnover

✅ Higher productivity 

✅ Less employee absence 

✅ More satisfied customers and clients 

HR, internal communication, and employee experience professionals all have an important role to play to normalize conversations about wellbeing and communicate mental health awareness in the workplace, and rejecting stigma. 

Let’s look at how we can do just that.

How to communicate mental health awareness at work

Knowing where to start when it comes to building a communication strategy around mental health and wellbeing is tricky, but incorporating the following five elements into your approach will set you on the right path! 

The aim is to create a strategy that both normalizes the mental health conversation and raises awareness of the support available, leading to a more positive and inclusive culture.

Build awareness of your wellbeing program

One of the most important objectives of a mental health communication strategy is to build awareness of the organization’s wellbeing program by talking about the resources available to support employees. 

This is an important step to show that employee wellbeing is a priority, and that the organization has the policies and resources to prove it. Flexible working policies, wellness incentives, fitness classes, financial management supports, and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) are all pillars of your wellbeing program.     

But research shows that awareness and utilization of wellbeing programs in the workplace remains low, with one study finding that although 64% of US employees reported struggling with their mental health in 2022, only 19% used their company’s mental health benefits.

Involve workplace mental health champions

Workplace mental health champions are employees who encourage positive mental health within the organization by supporting their peers and directing them to the more formal help and support that is available. 

They can also represent the voice of the broader workforce by providing feedback and ideas that help shape your mental health communications strategy and overall wellbeing program.

This helpful guide to introducing workplace mental health champions has been developed by mental health charity, Mind. It includes steps to design, develop and deliver a peer-to-peer workplace mental health champion scheme, including important things to consider.  

Share real stories 

Sharing real mental health stories is one of the most effective and underutilized ways to normalize discussions about mental wellbeing in the workplace. 

Cultivating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing personal experiences with their colleagues helps to remove stigma and create a truly supportive environment where everyone can thrive. 

But with such a personal topic, it’s important to first invite managers to lead by example and create a ‘safe space’ for colleagues to share. Studies show that 88% of employees appreciate it when their leaders talk about their own mental health.

Consider things like introducing a monthly spotlight series where you publish real mental health stories from leaders across the organization, or quarterly wellbeing webinars featuring a different colleague sharing their story.        

Use inclusive language 

We’ll start with the caveat that this one is a bit of a no-brainer, and applies to all internal communication rather than just content relating to mental health and wellbeing. 

But it’s such an important thing to highlight, we just couldn’t leave it out! 

The language we use in our internal communication sets the tone for company culture and sends a clear message of the organization’s values. Language leads to behavior, so ensuring inclusive language is used throughout all of your content is incredibly important. 

As internal communicators and EX professionals, our choice of wording in company messaging has the power to either build relationships and create trust, or to actively damage our employee’s sense of belonging. 

“Inclusive language puts humanity at the center, allowing individuals to feel heard, valued, and respected in society” –  EHN Canada

This guide is a useful resource to help ensure your organization’s language is both inclusive and appropriate. 

Provide mental health guidance to line managers 

Line managers have the greatest influence over employees’ day-to-day experience of the workplace. Even organizations with the most comprehensive wellbeing programs cannot bypass the importance of ensuring their leaders are aligned and supportive. 

Just one negative or discriminatory comment from a line manager can undo years of great work to remove mental health stigma in the workplace.  

Of course, comments like this are not always intentional, and 62% of surveyed line managers said they don’t get enough help from their organization to support the mental health of their employees. We need to support line managers by providing guidance that educates and empowers them to have conversations with their team members about mental wellbeing. 

The CIPD has developed a comprehensive guide for people managers, providing information, templates, and advice to help leaders support members of their teams.  

Ideas to communicate World Suicide Prevention Day

Worldwide, an estimated 703,000 people die by suicide each year. And suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 50. Quite frankly, we can’t not talk about suicide at work. 

World Suicide Prevention Day is organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and takes place on 10 September every year. Organizations and communities around the world rally together to raise awareness.

The theme of this year’s campaign is ‘creating hope through action’, so we wanted to share three ideas for actions you can take within your organization. 

  • Make use of the IASP resources – You rarely have to start from scratch when it comes to campaigns like World Suicide Prevention Day. Downloadable infographics, videos, fact sheets, imagery, and text templates can be found here
  • Host a coffee morning –  Everyone loves coffee and cake, right? Organizing a coffee morning can be a great way to encourage colleagues to connect in person, raise money for a local suicide prevention charity, and encourage conversations about mental health.  
  • Launch manager guidance on suicide – Sharing guidance documents with line managers about suicide helps remove the stigma and ensure they feel comfortable having discussions with team members. This resource provides practical guidance for managers to support employees who have disclosed suicidal thoughts.    

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, find a list of local resources in Ireland here.