Five Ways to Create a Culture of Openness at Work Around Mental Health

Kelly Greenwood| Founder & CEO, Mind Share Partners

In the second article of our two-part series on mental health in the workplace, Kelly Greenwood, founder and CEO of Mind Share Partners, offers five simple things nonprofit leaders can do to build a work culture that is open and supportive of mental health conditions.

This article was originally published on Bridgespan.

Over 50 percent of all people will manage a mental health condition in their lifetime. Therefore, it's likely that your organization will at some point have an employee who struggles with a one.

In our first article, we shared how to begin to build an awareness around mental health throughout your organization. The second article in our two-part series tackles how you can think through creating a culture that is open about mental health at work. What does it mean to have an open culture? How can you talk about mental health and share experiences? And most important, what can you do if a direct report or colleague needs help navigating his or her mental health condition at work?

Multiple fields comprise mental health in the workplace: therapy and wellness; HR and law; and business management. To build a workplace culture supportive of mental health, solutions should consider each area of expertise. In our work at Mind Share Partners, we've found that the following five steps help leaders and their organizations create a culture of openness for discussing and achieving mental wellness.

1. Awareness is the first step. Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are extremely common—20 percent of employees will struggle in any given year. Most people, however, hide their mental health conditions from their employers and don't seek treatment given current stigma. Shame prevents roughly 80 percent of employees from seeking treatment, even though treatments are typically very effective. Being aware of the scope and nature of the issue can help leaders, managers, and employees take steps toward building an open culture and contribute to breaking down the stigma.

2. Demonstrate vulnerability to help create a culture of trust. One of the most powerful things you can do as a leader is to demonstrate vulnerability. This helps create an open dialogue around mental health, builds trust, and supports other difficult conversations you might have within your organization. Be candid with your team about struggles that you, a family member, or a friend has faced, whether mental health-related or not. If you do talk about mental health (in this context or others), never treat it as something to be ashamed of or that can't be overcome. Instead, be an empathetic ally.