Don’t Be Silent: Why More Small Businesses Need to Start Talking About Mental Health

October 10, 2016


Every year, 1 in 5 adults in the US experience a mental illness—yet only 41% of adults with a mental illness received help in 2015. While workplaces have become more prepared to address mental health, the stigma surrounding the topic is still very much present.

Feeling stressed about meeting expectations, overwhelmed with workload or depressed about underperformance are just a few of the emotions those with mental health issues endure every day. Most of the time, they experience these feelings without support.

Related: Understanding Workplace Accessibility and Why Your Small Business Needs It

To contribute to the conversation and bring awareness to World Mental Health Day (which we celebrate today), we spoke with Brittany Turner, certified life coach practitioner and owner of The Courage Collective. She discusses the state of mental health at work today, as well as how small business owners can initiate the conversation with their teams.

Mental Health Issues at Work: What are the Triggers?

It’s impossible to attribute it to one specific cause. From Brittany’s experience and working with clients, she shares 4 major causes.

  • A High-Pressure Environment: “I see work overload—feeling like the stakes are really high and feeling really overloaded.”
  • Lack of Internal Resources: “So many people are quick to walk into a job and sign a contract that says how much time they’ll get off in a year and how they’ll be supported. It’s just unclear how they’ll be able to take care of themselves.”
  • Unstable Jobs: “Speaking to young people specifically, there’s a lot of job insecurity. They’re feeling like they can’t rock the boat and ask about those benefits to guarantee themselves some self-care.”
  • Lack of Communication: “The last thing I’m noticing is their lack of communication and hesitancy to bring up your own mental health. It’s unclear how an issue like that would be handled at work.”

Work / Life Balance. Is it Actually a Thing?

In short, the term work / life balance is overused. “I think there’s good intention behind it,” explains Brittany, “but now I’m not so sure it makes the most sense.” The workplace has to come to a point where there are blurred lines between work and life.

According to Brittany, the workplace has become more flexible, allowing people to take their jobs home—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re passionate enough to bring a project home, she says there’s nothing wrong about that.

“Instead, I would change work / life balance with finding a balance between self-care / health and life. I feel like your personal life can get as hectic as your job because if you’re not making time for intentional self-care in your mental and physical health, there’s really no balance at all.”

Why is There Still a Lack of Communication About Mental Health at Work?

While we can talk about how much the workplace has progressed towards a more mental health-attentive space, there still is a lack of transparency about it. Why? Brittany says it’s because the stigma behind mental health still exists.

“There’s still something about mental health that seems so separate from physical health,” she explains, “and there’s also something less tangible about it.”

She uses the flu as an example: “Management knows how to handle the flu and will tell their employees to go home. But when someone comes in and says they’re overwhelmed, they don’t know how to gauge that. I think there’s just less policy and less writing about it right now.”

How Can Small Business Owners Take the Lead?

On a high-level, the simplest way business owners and leaders can start talking about mental health is by establishing clarity with their staff from the get-go. To get started on building your internal initiatives, Brittany offers these tips.

  1. Educate Your Team: “Knowledge is power. Get everyone on the same page, handout self-care packages, send a weekly staff newsletter with one healthy habit to upkeep folks’ mental health and put up posters around the office as visual reminders.”
  2. Make it a Collaborative Effort: “You can initiate the change by doing something collectively— like set a time every day where all the staff does a 15-minute sequence of stretches or takes a 15-minute break.”
  3. Make it Mandatory: “If you see that your staff isn’t taking time for themselves outside of work and that self-care piece isn’t there, make it mandatory. You’re only going to see benefits from that in the productivity of your staff and the team morale. It’s definitely worth it. It’s a win-win.”

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about the author

Content Editor, FreshBooks Megan Santos is a Content Editor at FreshBooks. Before joining the team, Megan was the Editor of a national trade publication and was also a contributor for the National Post, Notable.ca and Zoocasa.com. In her free time, you can find Megan in her empty, new home or Pinteresting “home decor inspiration.” Connect with her on LinkedIn.