It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room that is mental health. According to Mental Health America, nearly 50 million Americans are currently experiencing some form of mental illness. With such a sizeable percentage of the population facing these challenges, you can assume that one or more of your employees may be struggling. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t something that can ‘just be turned off’. Mental health is no longer taboo, and employees are seeking employers who are engaged in helping in any way they can.

Mental health issues can have a significant impact on an employee’s job satisfaction and productivity. So responding to an email or finishing up a project may not be as high on their to-do list as you would expect. Someone struggling with these concerns could be triggered by events that occur both in and out of the workplace so as an employer you can play a role in either adding to or alleviating that stressor. Allowing your employee to take their vacation uninterrupted, or simply asking how they are doing is a good place to start. The battle of mental health is not one that should be fought alone, and sometimes what seems like a small gesture on your part can have a huge impact on others.

The most important thing to remember is that mental illness should not be taken lightly. It should be known that your efforts are made in the best interest of the employee, and it all begins with the type of environment you set forth in your workplace. As a leader, it’s your job to foster an environment where employees feel safe and appreciated. Giving recognition where it’s due, offering benefits that promote a work-life balance such as flexible schedules or hybrid opportunities, encouraging team-building activities and welcoming employee feedback are all crucial in establishing a positive environment. If you work in a small company where your employees, “wear many hats,” you could offer to lessen their workload. An employee who feels overwhelmed, burned out, or underappreciated is much more likely to call out or even resign.

Mental health issues do not resolve overnight, in fact, some people battle them for a lifetime. Ensuring that mental healthcare is accessible in your workplace by offering health plans with coverage for mental health services/medications, or partnering with local mental health providers to provide free counseling in-office are a step in the right direction. Eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health and openly speaking about it in the workplace is recommended because truth be told, you don’t know who is struggling. New York State implemented a sick and safe leave law that allows employees 40 hours of paid leave for mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition regardless of diagnosis at the time of the request. Your employees should feel comfortable requesting the use of this time, no questions asked.

If you’re struggling to find a way to support mental illness in your organization amongst your employees, just ask. It could be a formal closed-door meeting or an informal questionnaire your employees submit anonymously. Ask what suggestions they may have (within reason) to promote a more positive work environment. Your solutions could be specific to each individual or it could be a change that supports your staff as a whole.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health please call SAMHSA’s National Helpline where you can receive free, confidential service 24/7, 365-days per year.