May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health issues. While mental health should be a priority year-round, this month is an important reminder to take steps to support the mental health and wellbeing of our colleagues and employees. One of the key places to start is in the office environment.
According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, millions of people are affected by mental health conditions, also interchangeably called mental illness, each year. NAMI defines mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior or mood. These conditions deeply impact day-to-day living and may also affect the ability to relate to others.
Across the country, many people just like you work, perform, create, compete, laugh, love and inspire every day despite their struggles. Although openness and conversation around mental illness is increasing, statistics show the number of people affected:
- 21% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020 (52.9 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults.
- 5.6% of U.S. adults experienced serious mental illness in 2020 (14.2 million people). This represents 1 in 20 adults.
- 16.5% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016 (7.7 million people)
- 6.7% of U.S. adults experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness in 2020 (17 million people).
Considering the above statistics, it only stands to reason some of your employees and colleagues are dealing with mental health conditions. Thinking mindfully about how to improve the office environment for employees to promote positive mental health can help your employees stay engaged and productive. NAMI and other mental health experts recommend the following:
1. Create a culture of openness
One of the most important steps to creating a positive mental health environment is to foster a culture of openness. This means encouraging employees to talk about their mental health and wellbeing and providing support when they need it. Consider creating an open-door policy, where employees can approach management with any concerns they have about their mental health.
2. Provide resources
There are many resources available to support mental health, and employers are encouraged to provide access to them. This might include counseling services, employee assistance programs, and mental health hotlines. Ensure that these resources are widely advertised and easily accessible to all employees.
3. Encourage breaks
Taking breaks is essential for maintaining good mental health, so employers should encourage their employees to take regular breaks throughout the day. This might include breaks for stretching, walking, or meditation. Encouraging employees to take their full lunch break can also help them recharge and return to work feeling refreshed.
4. Promote work-life balance
Work-life balance is important for preventing burnout and supporting good mental health. Employers should encourage employees to take time off when they need it, and make it clear that they support work-life balance. Consider offering flexible working arrangements, if possible, such as telecommuting or flexible hours, to help employees balance their work and personal lives.
5. Reduce stressors
The office environment can be a source of stress for many employees, so it’s important to identify and address any stressors. This might include reducing noise levels, ensuring that workloads are manageable, and promoting a positive work culture.
Improving the office environment is one important step to creating a positive mental health culture. Let’s make mental health a priority in the workplace, not just in May, but all year round!
National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Mental Health By the Numbers.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, April 2023. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions. Last accessed April 15, 2023.