In today’s dynamic work environment, the importance of mental health in the workplace has never been more pronounced. Employees encounter many stressors, from relentless deadlines to navigating complex interpersonal relationships, all of which can take a toll on their mental health. It has become increasingly evident to employers that mental health is not just a peripheral concern, it is a top priority of their workforce.  

The findings from the APA’s 2023 Work in America Survey show that 92% of workers insist that an organization’s commitment to their emotional and psychological well-being is important to them. Rates of loneliness, stress and burnout are on the rise, with 76% of U.S. workers reporting at least one symptom of a mental health condition. 

Amidst these challenges lies an opportunity for employers to enact proactive measures that champion mental health and cultivate psychologically thriving workplaces. Embracing a comprehensive approach to learning and development (L&D) is not just about checking the box, it’s about investing in mental health education, supportive structures and initiatives to decrease stigma. By investing in these areas, organizations can foster a sense of belonging and connection to create a culture that supports the holistic well-being of employees.  

What is Mental Health?  

The term mental health may conjure images of mental health disorders or severe illnesses. However, it’s essential to recognize that mental health encompasses much more than that. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological and social well-being — a holistic framework that influences feelings, mindset and actions. 

Mental health is not just about diagnosable conditions and symptoms; it’s a spectrum of experiences that includes everything from everyday stressors to grief and burnout. Acknowledging the full spectrum of experiences can challenge barriers and reduce stigma. Mental health is more than the absence of conditions: It is also about maintaining well-being and neglecting mental health can hinder the ability to reach one’s full potential, personally and professionally.  

Mental Health Literacy 

One approach to supporting mental health in the workplace is through improving mental health literacy. Initially understood as equipping individuals with the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to identify and address mental health challenges before they escalate, it now also includes strategies for obtaining and maintaining good mental health. This approach not only promotes awareness but also empowers individuals to cultivate healthy coping mechanisms and build a foundation for long-term mental wellness.  

L&D’s Role 

L&D professionals play a crucial role in enhancing mental health in the workplace by developing tailored programs and resources. These initiatives empower employees and leaders to recognize signs of mental distress, access support resources and promote help-seeking behaviors. By collaborating with human resources (HR) and organizational leaders, L&D can integrate mental health components into existing training programs, including onboarding, leadership development and ongoing professional development courses. This ensures mental health literacy is ingrained in organizational culture, prioritizing employee well-being throughout the employee lifecycle. 

Increasing Mental Health Literacy 

  • Individual level: Equipping employees with the necessary knowledge and skills to identify and address mental health challenges is an important first step. Comprehensive mental health education programs can include training sessions and workshops such as mental health first aid or mental health awareness training. These provide employees with information about early warning signs and self-care strategies, enabling them to proactively manage their mental well-being.  
    • In addition to simply educating individuals on signs and symptoms, education needs to also be paired with promoting help-seeking behaviors and access to interventions. This includes information about how to access employee assistance programs (EAPs), mental health resources and employee resource groups (ERGs). Consider the employee lifecycle when designing training, being thoughtful to include in onboarding and throughout their tenure with the organization. As policies and procedures change, so should communication with the employees. 
    • While awareness campaigns provide value, skill-building is also important. Training centered on resilience-building, emotional intelligence and stress management can be beneficial. Other important topics include time management, setting and communicating boundaries and managing up
    • Consider adding mental health themes in role-specific training. For example, while learning about customer service, there could be elements of navigating conflict, coping with difficult customers and how to elevate concerns to their leader. By promoting these types of training, employees feel empowered with the skills to navigate challenges while teaching ways to advocate for their needs and capacity. 
  • Leadership level: Leadership and managers play a pivotal role in championing mental health initiatives and creating a supportive work environment. By actively promoting mental wellness and leading by example, leaders set the tone for organizational culture and encourage open dialogue around mental health. But change agents and leaders must be provided with the right tools and education to be successful. Investing in leadership training programs that emphasize empathy, active listening and effective communication can equip managers with the skills to recognize, respond and connect their team members with the resources they need.
    • Consider embedding mental health literacy into leadership training and ongoing development. When completing training on coaching, performance evaluations or effective one-on-one meetings, there is an opportunity to provide guidance and application to enhance leaders’ ability to navigate mental health conversations. Providing examples, case studies and role-play can help develop language and approaches to boost a leader’s confidence in their skills. Simply providing resources is often not enough: Help leaders connect the dots to understand how they can best support their team members to access resources and tools to succeed.   
  • Organizational level: By integrating comprehensive education programs, fostering a supportive culture and garnering leadership support, L&D can create an environment where employees feel empowered to prioritize their mental health. Providing regular check-ins, employee surveys and feedback mechanisms gives opportunities for employees to contribute to and shape the future of support and change within the organization. 
    • Through early intervention efforts, resilience-building initiatives and effective leadership practices, workplaces can cultivate a culture of well-being that not only enhances employee satisfaction and productivity but also fosters a sense of community and belonging. As organizations continue to recognize the importance of mental health in the workplace, investing in preventive education and addressing employees’ needs will undoubtedly yield long-term benefits for both employees and the organization as a whole. 

Taking the Next Best Step  

Now is the time to prioritize preventative mental health training for employees and leaders. Organizations should take action to implement holistic interventions for mental health in the workplace, starting with small steps. Initiating resilience-building workshops, mental health awareness training or supportive leadership practices can make a significant difference. By taking these first steps, organizations move closer to cultivating a culture of well-being, leading to a healthier and happier workplace for all.