Mental Health Awareness Month: Creating a culture of mental health in the workplace

Koa Health
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When it comes to embedding mental health into the workplace culture, awareness is just the first step

In May, organizations and employers worldwide join the movement to raise awareness about mental health. Observed as Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949 in the US and as Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK (May 15-21), these events play an essential role in spreading the word about mental health and how it impacts people everywhere.

In any given year, an estimated 1 in 5 Americans  and 1 in 4 Brits  struggle with mental health problems. Poor mental health, specifically depression and anxiety, are behind an estimated 12 billion workdays lost annually at a cost of $1 trillion to the global economy.  And those numbers don't include the many more who call in physically sick  to hide their struggles with mental health. Poor mental health has also been shown to negatively impact employee engagement, productivity, and, crucially, workplace safety. 

Want to find out more about how mental health impacts safety at work?

As the first step in addressing any problem, awareness is essential. After all, it's easier to solve a problem if you acknowledge it exists. But awareness is just the tip of the iceberg. A sustainable mental health culture can’t be built on awareness alone. Now, more than ever, people need practical support, and they expect their employers to help. Fortunately, for employees and employers alike, organizations everywhere are taking notice… and action.

Mental health awareness is just the beginning

In a 2022 survey of 500 business leaders in the UK and US conducted by Koa Health, 75% expect employees' mental wellbeing to improve in 2023 and plan to take action, yet more than half (58%) do not plan to increase spending.  To be truly useful in protecting and prioritizing mental wellbeing for an entire workforce, raising awareness must be part of a larger strategy to build a lasting culture of mental health in your workplace. Here are a few key actions to get you started.

1. Work on reducing barriers to mental health

The pervasive stigma around having a mental health condition and seeking support for mental health struggles continues to keep people from getting the care they need. 58% of people don't get help when facing clinical-level mental health challenges. 86% of those individuals avoid seeking support because of stigma, lack of confidence in care, and a preference for self-help.  You can help your workforce overcome stigma and reduce barriers to care by making mental health talk a regular part of your ways of working. Promote open dialogue in meetings of all sizes so everyone's voice is heard. Check in on your direct reports and coworkers' wellbeing regularly. Make consideration for people's wellbeing a working standard across teams. All of these strategies contribute to a psychologically safe environment in which employees feel comfortable prioritizing their mental wellbeing. 

Complement this approach by making care easier to access with discreet and self-guided options that enable your workforce to take the lead in caring for their mental health. When people are empowered to care for themselves in ways they are comfortable with, follow-through (and results) improve. Digital-first options make it easy for people to access support at the time and place that works best for them. 

2. Train leaders and managers to spot and signpost

When it comes to mental health, our day-to-day leaders, aka managers and supervisors, make a significant impact. For nearly 70% of employees, managers have more impact on mental health than their doctor or therapist and have an effect equal to that of a romantic partner.  So it follows that these team leaders should be involved in supporting workforce mental health (and necessarily enabled to do so). And your employees agree—according to a study of over 3,000 workers across 10 countries, 70% would like their manager to take more action to support mental health. 

Unfortunately, many managers aren't sure how to support employees' mental health. A survey from Mental Health First Aid England revealed 33% of managers  said they felt out of their depth when it comes to supporting employees' mental health. This makes sense, as many managers receive little to no mental health training but have been approached by employees they supervise about mental health issues. Many employers in the US and the UK have plans to remedy this situation. In a 2022 conducted by Koa Health in partnership with 3Gem Research and Insights, 94% of US employers  and 95% of UK employers  have plans in place to better equip their managers to recognize and support employees dealing with mental health struggles. This makes sense as mental health training for managers can be an effective and cost-efficient way to improve talent retention, productivity and workplace culture.

3. Offer your employees effective, evidence-based tools they know they can trust

If your employees don't feel confident in the effectiveness of the tools offered, they're unlikely to use them. More than half of people don't seek help for clinical-level challenges. Some of the top reasons they don't take steps to access care are feeling unsure, needing more confidence in the care available, or needing more certainty about how/where to get help.  

As an employer, it's up to you to ensure that the tools you're providing are evidence-based, engaging, and effective. Do this by checking into the team behind a solution, independent reviews, and studies of product or program effectiveness included in scientific publications.  

You'll also want to ask about a solution's average uptake and utilization rates, including the frequency of usage. And finally, to ensure that a solution is worthy of your workforce's trust, you'll want to find a provider who's publicly committed to using data ethically. 

To find out more about best practices for raising awareness and building a culture of mental health at your workplace, download our Mental Health Awareness Toolkit.

Find out:

  • How mental health impacts the employee experience
  • Signs to look out for at your workplace
  • Practical steps to start creating a culture of mental wellbeing









about the author

Koa Health

The Team @ Koa Health

Our diverse team of developers, researchers, psychologists and behavioral health experts work together to create practical, thought-provoking content to accompany our range of digital therapeutics.