The step beyond stigma

What to do when mental health becomes water cooler conversation

Over the past year, we’ve seen a revolution in mental health - for better and for worse. The pandemic has provoked a sharp spike in mental health complaints, compounding the suffering of millions. But this dark cloud has at least one silver lining, thanks to the broad mainstream discussion on mental health: a rapid drop in stigma.

Although welcome, this catapults many workplaces into uncharted territory. Having battled the stigma associated with mental health for so long, how should employers manage an environment where mental health is suddenly discussed openly, everywhere from the water cooler to TikTok?

As the founder of a company focused on mental health, I’m aware that our work environment is probably less prone to stigma than most. So we’ve been mindful to focus on the next set of challenges beyond stigma - ensuring that, in a workplace where mental health is more openly discussed, team members get the help they need, and avoid making themselves vulnerable in the workplace.

This all starts with education. At Big Health, our clinical team has designed team training on the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, the recommended treatments and resources available to employees, and clear signposting on where they can get more help - from our own digital therapeutics, through to traditional therapy, and any work-related accommodations.

By empowering employees to recognize when they have a problem that needs help, and leading them to access the appropriate help more quickly, this approach strives to “get ahead” of mental health challenges. That’s why we’ve built this training and education into our standard onboarding process.

Even if you’re not in need of help right now, given the focus of our work, it can feel natural to bring your own experiences of mental health to the table in the course of that work. Therefore distinguishing what is safe and appropriate to discuss, rather than something that could put you or someone else in a vulnerable position, is a key skill that all team members need to develop. So, as with other sensitive topics, principles of communication need to be part of this training, embedded into the “behavioral contract” of the workplace.

I’m so glad to see the dialogue around mental health burst into the mainstream - I’m sure much good will come of it. In the meantime, it’s critical that support structures race to keep up with the pace of change.