The Right and Wrong Way to Discuss Mental Health at Work

Being open about mental health in the workplace can be either beneficial or problematic — so here's how to do it the right way.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a substantial dialogue around mental health in the workplace. The loneliness and isolation of remote work have caused many to feel elevated levels of depression, and anxiety can be triggered by the return to work. If mental health is not handled well, it can have a significant impact on work. Employees can end up feeling more reactive, destabilized, and paranoid when their mental health is not in a good place.

Become a Subscriber

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading this article.

Subscribe Now

However, there are good and bad ways to address mental health in the workplace. Being transparent with one’s team and managers is absolutely vital, as sharing one's experience can destigmatize a conversation around mental health. There are triumphant stories of employees sharing their struggles with colleagues and those colleagues ultimately being supportive.

Tenured Google employee Nicholas Whitaker tells Quartz that when he shared his mental health struggles, his teammates respected his sabbatical, and when he returned, he was eventually called to host Google Wellbeing Sessions for other teams. But realistically, not every story about mental health in the workplace has a fairy-tale ending.

Being transparent can be impossible with teammates or managers who are not receptive to mental health concerns or hold biases toward mental health. In cases like this, mental health concerns should be thought of just like physical health concerns — handled with grace and dignity in privacy. Employees should try to liaison with HR to take reasonable medical leave or have some accommodations made that are commensurate with their needs.

Workers should also ask their managers to provide feedback in a way they can best receive it. They should be firm about blocking out time, especially time when they feel they're the most productive, and remember that "setting boundaries" isn't just a buzzword — it can truly benefit the work experience and overall work quality.