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Building a Mental Health Community at Work: Extra Steps You Can Take to Support Your Team

Mental Health in the Workplace

At Pivot, one of our core values is Positive Mental Attitude. We bring the sunshine, start with a ‘yes,’ enjoy new learning opportunities and encourage curiosity. And while this is a fantastic value to uphold, it’s not always easy. Maintaining a positive mental attitude can take real work. But, with the right supports in place, it’s easier than you might assume.

My Personal Journey with Mental Health
Pivot puts a heavy focus on our employees’ mental health, and for me it’s a topic near and dear to my heart. I have struggled a large portion of my life with anxiety. It runs in my family, and I’ve passed it on to two of my three kids so far. Not intentionally, of course. In fact, I never really talked about it with my kids until it became apparent that they were having some of the same struggles. It’s not fun, and without medication – for me – it can be quite debilitating.

Why do I share this so openly? Because not enough people do, especially at work. When we have the space to share our struggles honestly, people learn they aren’t alone. We can make connections with each other that provide an additional layer of support and understanding that may not typically be present in the workplace.

Starting a Workplace Support Group
While I was at my previous job, I did something unheard of – I started a support group at work. Something that seems so simple, and yet so many organizations lack. The impact of creating this group was huge – the difference was real. People started attending from across the country and sharing their stories. We laughed, we cried, we shared tips, tricks, and resources. It was only one hour a month, but that hour shaped the way some people felt about the company – saying it “restored their faith.”

How One Turned into Many
The support group I started was related to parenting children with autism, which eventually      broadened to include all special needs – ADHD and epilepsy being two major ones. Our group led to a colleague starting another support group for people struggling with anxiety and depression. That group grew so large, eventually they had to split into two groups. And here’s the thing about support groups – you don’t need an “expert” to lead these discussions. Were the people leading these groups experts? Not even close – I know I’m not. We made it quite clear at the beginning of every meeting that we were just people who wanted to build a community of people with similar experiences and support one another.

Putting a Priority on Mental Health
Most companies provide some type of mental health resource, whether it be an Employee Assistance Program, telephonic, text-based or in-person counseling, or some combination. These sorts of benefits are an important first step. HR departments are a great resource for employees looking for assistance and there are usually more benefits available than most employees realize. If you aren’t sure what’s available, I strongly recommend you look into it or ask someone on your human resource team.

Taking Mental Health Awareness to the Next Level
I am at a point where I have accepted that I don’t always have to have it together. It’s okay not to be okay, and it’s okay to let people know. I am not a mental health expert and want to make that clear. But through my own experiences, I have learned valuable lessons I think most companies can apply to their own organizations.

Here’s my advice on ways organizations can support mental health awareness beyond common practices:

  • Share stories on your company intranet site about mental health and people’s experiences. Employees appreciate when their company acknowledges the humanity of their workforce. People are complicated and it would be foolish to pretend like everything is perfect for everyone all the time. Recognizing that employees are more than just their work is at the foundation of creating a true culture of support.
  • Allow and encourage people to take a mental health day. Taking time to focus on your mental health is just as – if not more – important than taking time to focus on your physical health. When burnout starts to set in, health psychologists say taking time for self-care is critical to avoiding more serious issues in the future.
  • Take the time to ask someone how they are REALLY doing and listen to their answer. It is not necessarily about offering solutions. In fact, most people just want to feel heard and understood. Check out these 10 Steps to Effective Listening from Forbes for tips.
  • Talk about your own struggles. No one likes to admit when they are having a hard time, but by sharing those moments with others you can help them understand what you’re dealing with – and remind them they aren’t alone the next time they’re having an off day.
  • Encourage someone passionate about mental health to start a support group. Empowering individuals to act on things they feel passionately about is a remarkable tool. Support groups in the workplace can be transformative for those overseeing them, as well as those who participate.

About the Author

Jamie VargoSenior Communications Consultant

Jamie brings 20 years of HR communications experience to the Pivot team. As a communication consultant, she builds and executes comprehensive communication and change strategies using a thoughtful and results-driven approach. She’s passionate about employee engagement and simplifying complex messages. Jamie has experience in consulting for all areas of HR in the hospitality, agricultural and financial services industries.

Connect with Jamie Vargo on LinkedIn →

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