Ten ways to create a mentally healthy workplace

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Maintaining a healthy office environment involves more than simply providing benefits and fitness programs. The emotional well-being of your employees is just as important. Here are ten suggestions to help create a mentally healthy workplace:
1.  Be Proactive
Don’t sit back and wait for problems to come to you. Consider all the things that make your workplace what it is. Examine culture, norms, policies and expectations to find out what you can change to create an environment that’s conducive to promoting mental health.

2. Make it a priority
Mental health is an issue that is often overlooked by employers but it is a very real concern, as a growing number of employees find themselves overwhelmed by the pressures of their jobs, families and finances.  In fact, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for people between the ages of 15 to 44. Studies have also shown definitively that mental health disorders – including depression, anxiety, burnout, substance abuse - cost Canadian companies billions of dollars annually.

3. Be accessible
Be sure that any wellness program can be extended to all employees within your organization, regardless of location or work hours. With advancements in technology, resources such as an on-demand video training modules can provide employees and their family members with 24/7 access to expertise whenever and wherever they need it whether they are at work, at home or on the go on their mobile device.

4. Offer resources
Provide employees with credible sources of information on mental health topics. Easy-to-understand guidance can go long ways towards helping people cope. Sometimes even a five-minute audio or video segment can be enough to help employees.

5. Take a holistic view of mental health
Mental health is not just about diagnosed illnesses. It can also be about many factors that improve a person’s well being. Nutrition, fitness, and good sleep habits for example can play a key role in mental health and happiness.

6. Look beyond the workplace
Personal finances, work-life balance, parenting and elder care are all things employees need to cope with in their daily lives. When developing a wellness program, be sure to look at what resources you can offer to help them meet their personal as well as workplace challenges.

7. Break down the barriers
An employer can play an important role in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. There are plenty of educational resources available to help employers foster a more supportive and collaborative workplace.

8. Be front and centre
Make sure management is actively involved with your mental health messaging. Let employees know you recognize and understand the challenges they face, and that your management is there to support them.  Where relevant, share personal experiences within an organization. Be sure to train all levels of management on mental health matters.

9. Watch and listen
Foster an environment where people are comfortable discussing wellness concerns; and listen to their feedback on the programs you’ve introduced. Their input is invaluable in ensuring that the supports you provide are effective.

10. Stay current
Workplace issues can shift from year to year. Make sure that any programs you develop are revisited at least annually so the content stays relevant.

Originally published in the Globe and Mail on November 7, 2011
Aimee Israel and Michael Held are the co-founders of LifeSpeak.com, a company that is dedicated to delivering information from acclaimed North American experts to workplaces to assist employees in better managing the demands of both their personal and professional lives. Visit LifeSpeak.com for more information on promoting wellness in the workplace.

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