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The Stepped Care Approach to Mental Health: Best practices to tackle workplace the stigma

Mental illness in the workplace leads to decreased productivity, increased sick-related absenteeism, poor work quality, wasted materials and even compromised workplace safety. Despite the significant financial loss to employers and broad economy, many mental disorders fly below the radar in the workplace.

Many employers have responded by expanding access to their mental health benefits. But access isn’t the only obstacle: many employees dealing with mental health concerns are unable to recognize the benefits of support. And some are simply unwilling to seek it.

In our current landscape, employers are challenged to seamlessly embed mental health support into their organizational culture. Digital mental health services could help.

Overcoming the barrier of mental health stigma

To understand why many employees are hesitant to seek help, employers must understand how decisions about mental health are impaired by social stigma.

Identifying oneself, or being identified by others, as ‘mentally-ill’ attaches a host of socially prescribed negative character assumptions that are often incorrect.

How employers can tackle workplace stigma

  • One solution is for employers to explicitly promote awareness and acceptance of mental health, as a way to signal that it’s okay to seek support.

  • Another, more subtle, route is treating mental health as an organizational problem, not a personal one. This approach provides more extensive mental health support that is seamlessly integrated into the daily practices of an organization.

How you can integrate mental health into your organization

Amidst the ongoing mental health crisis, employers recognize that the success of their business hinges on the mental health of their employees. The social stigma around mental health remains a barrier to accessing support, but innovations in digital mental health offer more subtle interventions for enhancing organizational wellbeing. By providing a broader range of support through stepped care and incorporating mental health support into organizational practices, employers can build a more resilient and productive workforce.

1. Host a Stress Reduction Workshop

Stress hormones trigger the body’s “fight or flight response,” which when left untreated can cause chronic physical and emotional issues. Stress can trigger health woes that include everything from headaches to heartburn and insomnia to irritability. Consider having your benefits director host a stress-reducing activity workshop this month. Your staff will benefit from knowing there are healthy ways to handle stress!

2. Create an Interactive Bulletin Board

Bulletin boards in the workplace don’t need to be boring. Get creative with your hallway bulletins by turning them into an engaging Mental Health Awareness Month activity. You can print resources, add fact sheets, and inspirational quotes to the boards. Additionally, you can pose questions that require employees to write their thoughts right on the board. Some ideas of questions to include: “What made you smile today?” or “What are you grateful for?” or “What’s your favorite activity to blow off steam?”

3. Get Physical

Host a karate instructor to come on site for the day. Throughout the day, have the instructor offer mini lessons for individuals and/or group classes. Physical sports like karate can build confidence and strength, along with a new exercise routine. If they can, see if the instructor will supply small wood boards for a “breaking boards event” that can easily be a confidence training exercise for your team members.

4. Have a Well-Being Day

Host a day dedicated to well-being activities and exploration. You can keep it as simple as a mini wellness benefits review with a light breakfast and equally light workday. Or, have a variety of well-being stations set-up for your staff. A hydration station with fruit-infused water, a coloring book station, a quiet meditation area, and an area for stretching are all easy ideas for a simple yet refreshing well-being day.

5. Create a Different Kind of Escape Room

Break rooms are a must for escaping work. Aside from your typical kitchen break room setup, consider making a different kind of escape room for employees. Add meditation pillows, bean bags, a diffuser, etc. in a space where employees can go for a restorative moment of quiet. Reflection and meditation are perfect Mental Health Awareness Month activities that can bring peace in as little as a few minutes.

6. Host a Tea/Coffee Event

Bring a mental health advocate in for a morning tea or coffee event. Host a healthy breakfast and invite your staff to come in and listen to a local psychologist or mental health professional. They can host a Q-and-A session about stress, anxiety, or any number of mental health topics. Or, ask for a specific theme to be covered like stress management techniques or anxiety-reducing activities.

7. Have an Outdoor Event Day

Research proves that outdoor green spaces are good for mental health. Those who spend time outdoors will find they have reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. On a Friday, consider hosting a special event like an outdoor field day. Set up a variety of team-building activities— like hula hoop contests, egg races, and water balloon tosses — to generate laughs and encourage physical movement.

8. Discuss Mental Health

Mental health discussions aren’t only reserved for therapy offices. When leadership asks questions beyond, “Hi, how are you?” it starts a different dialogue. Questions like, “How are you feeling today?” or “How have you been spending your time?” are great ways to open up windows to mental health discussions.

If you’re still feeling resistance from your employees to have open mental health discussions, share the Empower Work resource. It provides confidential and immediate support for work challenges via web chat or texting. Best of all, it’s free!

9. Share Screening Tools

Employees can’t get the appropriate professional help if they don’t know they have a problem. Consider sharing mental health screening tools via email, bulletin boards, and team meetings to actively promote mental health awareness. Mental Health America has a series of free mental health tests that can be taken confidentially.

10. Schedule an On-Site Yoga Day

Yoga not only stretches the body, but it can also stretch the mind. Consider bringing in a local yoga teacher for a class on deep breathing and yoga. Your employees will learn how to quiet their minds while also moving their body during this favored wellness activity.

11. Have a Paint Party

Gather your team together for a relaxed, low-key event that also serves as a Mental Health Awareness Month activity. You can opt to host it on a Friday evening after work as a way to wrap up the work week. Or, set up a designated paint “studio” where individuals can drop by any time during the week to relieve stress as they paint. This artistic activity doesn’t have to be just for serious artists, either. It’s a simple way to encourage employees to emotionally release stress. Share pamphlets during the event on ways to reduce stress and other worries in healthy ways.

12. Gratitude Challenge

A regular gratitude practice is shown to improve optimism and improve mood. Those who do it on a consistent basis tend to feel better overall. Ask your employees to take part in a gratitude challenge. This can be as simple as journaling about three things they’re grateful for each evening. Or, you can have a virtual or in-person bulletin board where individuals leave anonymous notes of what they’re grateful for.

13. Wellness Gift Exchange

A wellness gift exchange is a great opportunity to actively involve your employees in a wellness event. Ask your team members to purchase a small gift (under a certain dollar amount) that can help mental health. You can set it up like a Secret Santa gift exchange. Or, have individuals wrap the gifts without tags and place them on a table. Anyone who participates can stop by throughout a designated day to pick up their gift. Ideas for gifts may include stress balls, stress “play dough,” self-help books, a candle, a spa gift set, etc.

14. Create a Coloring Area

Coloring is a peaceful way to sit and observe thoughts quietly without judgment. By setting up a quiet area with coloring books, it allows employees to escape for a break and practice mindfulness in a non-traditional way.

15. DIY Workshop

Crafting is shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and increase happiness. For a fun and lighthearted Mental Health Awareness Month activity, consider hosting a series of DIY workshops. Anything from making soap and bath bombs to wood carving or painting makes for a great team activity that also works wonders for mental health. Your employees can meet up at a local craft studio or your company can hire a local artisan to teach a workshop, depending on your budget.

16. Have a Massage Day

Massage is proven to reduce both physical and emotional stress, so why not host a massage day in the workplace? Local massage school students always need to clock hours to receive their certification and/or license. Call a local massage school to see if your company can host students for a massage day. Many have chairs they can set up outside, too, for proper social distancing. If you have a remote team, consider sending them gift vouchers to visit a local massage therapist for a stress-reducing activity.

17. Stop and Smell the Roses

Outdoor time is good for physical and emotional health, research shows. Consider planning a day to spend outside working on your company garden or a local community garden. Gardening is shown to elevate serotonin levels in the brain, which increases happiness overall.

18. Giveaway Wellness Items

A fun Mental Health Awareness Month activity for employers and employees alike includes giveaways. Throughout the month, randomly surprise your employees with useful wellness items. When your employees take care of their well-being, their mental health benefits. Giveaway items like subscriptions to meditation apps, positive self-help books or magazines, or even a spa getaway, if your budget allows.

19. Host Well-Being Mondays

Help your team take charge of their work week — and that “Case of the Mondays” — by seizing the day right off the bat. Whether your team is remote or in-house, offering self-help techniques can help improve morale and workplace attitudes. Topics to consider may include: Stress management techniques, stress-relieving activities, confidence builders, energy boosters, and positive self-talk.

20. Promote Random Acts of Kindness

Research shows that doing a kind act for another person is beneficial to mental health. Not only does it provide a momentary happiness boost to the person receiving it, the person showing kindness also benefits. Showing kindness — whether it’s by helping out on a project or opening a door for someone — can boost optimistic feelings, confidence, and happiness. It may also have a domino effect that encourages others to show kindness, too.

21. Hold a Community Dance Party

Dancing is known to elevate not only mood, but also heart rate. Both activities can improve overall health by lessening depression and the risk of other health issues. Consider hosting an outdoor community dance party at a local park for your team and community. Dancers can pay a donation with proceeds given to a local mental health organization. It’s also a way to boost social health, another mental health improvement opportunity!

Don’t Be Shy About Mental Health at Work

If you want your employees to be healthy, it’s important to remember that mental health is a part of their overall well-being.

Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being, meaning it impacts multiple areas of one’s life. It also impacts how individuals feel, think, act, and relate to others.

When mental health awareness is brought into the spotlight with lighthearted yet intentional activities, it can have a profound impact on your staff. This list is only a starting point. Ask your staff how your company can better cover mental health in the workplace. Their responses are always the ones that will count the most.

As always, we are here to help you. Feel free to schedule a chat with us!

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