5 Tips to Build Mental Health Literacy at Your Organization

Employees rank mental well-being as a top priority in the workplace, but many organizations still miss the mark. Here’s how your organization and managers can help employees proactively manage their mental well-being.

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The Calm Team

5 min read

Although organizations have been making mental well-being a priority in recent years, this recent Deloitte report highlights a wide gap between how leaders and employees feel about mental health support. 91% of C-suite leaders think their employees believe they care about their well-being, but only 56% of employees believe their executives care.

So how do we close this gap between positive intention and perceived action? It’s time for organizations and leaders to assess how they are supporting their employees’ mental health and taking the necessary steps to create a truly supportive environment. Scott Domann, Calm’s Chief People Officer, and Sarah Tobin, Head of Talent Development, shared their perspectives in our recent webinar, Building Mental Health Literacy at Your Organization. Here’s a summary of key takeaways.

How strong mental health literacy supports your preventive approach

Many organizations have recently adopted mental health solutions for treating depression and severe anxiety. But it’s also important to provide preventive strategies and tools for the majority of your employees, who might be experiencing mild conditions such as stress on the job.

In fact, stress at the workplace is one of the common factors contributing to poor mental health but it’s preventable when it’s addressed with early-intervention tools and strategies. Establishing strong mental health literacy within your organization is a good place to start building a healthy workplace culture that promotes positive mental health.

But what is mental health literacy?

What is mental health literacy?

Mental health literacy is an understanding, shared by employees and managers, of what it means to feel and function well within the organization. Here are the five core components of mental health literacy:

  • Understanding the importance of mental health (e.g., knowing your why and asking your leaders to know that why)
  • Recognizing early warning signs (e.g., use or underuse of PTO or ER concerns)
  • Decreasing stigma (e.g., encouraging leaders to share how they’ve managed their own mental health)
  • Knowing how, when, and where to seek support (e.g., consistently communicate where employees can access resources and normalize their use of them)
  • Knowing how to support others in the organization who are facing challenges

Assessing your organization’s mental health literacy

As a first step, find out how your organization fares when it comes to mental health literacy support. You can take the assessment below.

On a scale of 1 to 5, rate your organization using these five statements:

  • Our HR policies promote an environment of positive mental health
  • We make decisions with employees’ mental health in mind
  • Our organization creates opportunities to share mental health concerns freely and openly
  • Our leaders understand early warning signs of mental health illnesses
  • Our leaders know when, where, and how to access mental health offerings for themselves and their teams

Access the full assessment toolkit here.

5 tips to improve your organization’s mental health literacy level

You’ll notice the main components of the assessment reveal that your organization’s mental health literacy rests on your leaders. We’ve curated the following list of tips to help you, as an HR leader or as a manager, bolster your organization’s mental health literacy.

  1. Establish a psychologically safe environment at your workplace
    A strong wellness culture starts with creating a safe space where everyone in the organization can talk openly about their mental health stories and needs. Many resources out there focus on self-reflection, but it’s also important to be the brave ones who speak up and share personal stories so we can normalize mental health challenges. Leaders in influential positions are well positioned to initiate a ripple effect of positive changes in the workplace by finding various ways to share their stories and journeys.
  2. Practice thoughtfulness during mental health conversations 
    Leaders need to be thoughtful during mental health conversations with employees and practice active listening so they can recognize early warning signs that something is up. And, to foster an open, safe dialogue, they must respect the individual’s story, experiences, and thoughts and not make any assumptions. Your employees will be able to more accurately share what they need from your organization so they can thrive in their day-to-day work life.
  3. Help your managers know when to direct employees to appropriate resources
    Sometimes an employee won’t want to disclose their mental health issues at work. That’s why it’s crucial to recognize when your employees are showing signs of distress and to share external resources such as your EAP provider for depression or severe anxiety. You can also share preventive mental health tools like Calm Business for addressing stress, sleep issues, and mild anxiety. Your managers need to know what resources are readily available to help individuals through their mental health issues and not take it upon themselves to be the solution.
  4. Create an organization-wide action plan for making employee well-being a priority
    Senior leaders at organizations need to have a shared understanding of how they’re planning to make employee well-being a priority. Discuss the plan at an executive level and write it down so every leader is aware of it and buys into the “why” behind it. Ask the hard questions. “What is the risk to our business/department if we don’t invest in employee well-being?” “What are some barriers to investing in employee well-being?” “Why wouldn’t we invest in employee well-being?” Where you sense leaders may not be behind the initiative, talk to them about it. Understand why there is friction. And when it helps, bring in another senior leader who is an advocate to share their rationale.
  5. Help develop a wellness culture no matter what level you are in the organization
    Here at Calm for Business, we lean on these change management steps to help us implement a wellness culture:
    • Create urgency by communicating the need or the why behind this initiative
    • Establish a wellness committee and have senior leadership represented
    • Develop vision and strategies by putting pen to paper and building a slide deck, memo, or intranet page to outline what you’re trying to achieve and how
    • Communicate the change vision so people who want to get involved know where to access the information
    • Remove obstacles by identifying blockers and strategizing how to address them

What’s next?

Change doesn’t happen overnight. But we all play a role in positively influencing the work environment for our peers and colleagues. It’s admirable that you’re taking this time to learn and reflect on what mental health means for your organization. To take it a step further, we encourage leaders like you to connect with your why and openly talk about it with your employees.

By creating a psychologically safe culture that comes from the top, you’ll be helping your workforce feel comfortable speaking up and seeking the help they need. And while you’re helping the wider organization, don’t forget to be kind to yourself and make time for self-care activities. Organizations thrive when everyone thrives.

For more resources to help your employees manage their mental health at the workplace, check out the Work-Life collection in the Calm mobile app and watch our Mental Health Literacy webinar for HR leaders.

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