How to Be a Mental Health Ally in the Workplace
Research shows that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. will experience a mental health challenge within a given year. So that means that 20% of the people on your team — whether that be a colleague, boss, client, board member or even yourself — will struggle with their mental well-being at some point in 2022. Understanding this data point can empower you and your teammates to be one another’s allies in the workplace. But what exactly is a mental health ally?
Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., board-certified psychiatrist specializing in women’s mental health and founder and CEO of Gemma, shared with us that “an ally is someone who not only provides non-judgmental support but also shows up as an accomplice. This could mean tactical and logistical support — helping you practice for a tough conversation with your manager or speaking up in meetings to ask questions on behalf of the whole team.”
Here are some effective ways to be a mental health ally at work:
- Talk one-on-one with team members and create space for transparency
- Use supportive language that is sensitive, encouraging and avoids stigma like “You do not seem like yourself lately. Would you like to talk?” or “I understand that work can sometimes be overwhelming. How can I help you?”
- Share your own challenges and openly talk about mental health
- Educate yourself and your teammates about mental health
- Encourage group engagement in mental health discussions
- Advocate for the creation of mental health policies in the workplace
Dr. Lakshmin emphasized that leaders should model transparency about their own mental health challenges. She said: “Modeling is an important form of support and advocacy — if we don’t see transparent conversations being had in the workplace about mental health, we believe they aren’t happening. Transparency, at all levels of the hierarchy, is essential to the work of being an ally and an accomplice.”
Employees facing mental health challenges can succeed in the workplace, but it’s all about whether or not an environment has been created for them to thrive in. After all, we are all human beings — let’s lead with that shared experience and allow empathy to define how we approach mental health in the workplace.