Mental health challenges are exceedingly common but often unseen. In fact, 20% of Americans experience mental health problems every year, and 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness.

No matter the size of your organization, these statistics guarantee that you have employees who are struggling with their mental health. That’s why talking about mental health is so important. Ideally, communication about mental health should be collaborative, but it starts with you.

Improving employees’ mental health doesn’t just happen. It takes concentrated effort, strategic communication, and consistency over long periods of time. As you’re creating a strategy for managing mental health at work, we think this three-step framework will be an asset to guide your organization’s communication:

  1. Evaluate your company culture as it relates to employees’ mental health and identify areas that may need improvement.
  2. Use education and awareness campaigns to encourage employees to understand common mental health challenges and consider their own mental wellbeing.
  3. Drive employees to resources and benefits that support their mental health. Over time, aim for prevention of mental health issues rather than just offering remedial treatments.

1. Evaluate your company culture.

Though the stigma around mental health is decreasing, it’s still a roadblock that prevents people from seeking the support they need. This can lead to lower work performance, reduced productivity, and decreased satisfaction at work. To counteract that stigma, it’s crucial that your organizational culture is safe, supportive, and inclusive.

A safe, supportive, and inclusive workplace often materializes in small but meaningful ways — practicing active listening when you perceive that an employee needs mental health support, communicating with kindness and empathy, and using the power of relationships to foster connection and community.

It’s also important to lead with vulnerability without pressuring employees to share things they’re not comfortable with. Some employees may be more reticent about matters of mental wellbeing, and it’s vital to respect the unique perspective of each employee. Gradually increasing vulnerability builds trust and rapport, which are important building blocks for effective mental health communication.

As you evaluate your company’s culture as it relates to managing mental health at work, you may find areas that need improvement. That’s OK! Consider talking to leadership about hosting a training session on mental health communication or implementing policies that cultivate a safe, supportive, and inclusive atmosphere so employees can get the care they need. And remember that changing company culture takes time — keep taking small steps as you work toward transcendent goals.

2. Use awareness campaigns to educate employees about mental health.

So, where do you start? Draw in employees with awareness campaigns — use these to educate employees about common mental health challenges and encourage them to consider their own mental wellbeing. There is a wealth of information on mental health out there, so don’t pressure yourself to communicate every possible message. Consider common mental health challenges that your employee population might be facing and use those to guide your messaging.

Mental health can be a sensitive subject. Follow these recommendations to ensure your messaging is supporting your ideal company culture:

  • Teach about mental health issues in a clear, medical way. Using clinical terms and definitions underscores the point that mental health is just as important as physical health, and that experiencing a mental health condition is not a personal or moral failing.
  • Ensure your approach includes cultural understanding and sensitivity. We all bring our own baggage to the table. Whether due to age, race, gender, education level, socioeconomic status, or another factor — people may come to the conversation about mental health with different needs and expectations, as well as risk factors. Make sure you understand the diverse group of people who make up your employee population and adjust your messaging accordingly.
  • Talk about health holistically. People are complex, and mental health is just one element of a person’s overall wellness. Integrate mental health communication with other relevant topics, like physical health and financial wellbeing.

You should also consider the most effective communication channels for engaging your audience. You could host a webinar series on salient mental health topics, employ a text messaging campaign with distinct calls to action, use a weekly email series to highlight benefits and resources that support mental health, or create a user-friendly website where employees can find all relevant mental health care information in one place. Think about which communication channels would be most engaging to your employees and start there.

3. Drive employees to benefits and resources that support their mental health.

Now that you’ve identified the company culture you want to cultivate and begun educating employees about important mental health topics, it’s time to get people to act. Use internal communication to drive employees to the benefits and resources that support their mental health.

In the United States, average EAP (Employee Assistance Program) use is staggeringly low — some employees may not even know they have access to an EAP or know how to use it. Try to communicate the value of employees’ benefits and ensure they know how to get the most use out of the resources available to them.

One executive uses the “tell, show, repeat” method:

  1. First, tell employees about available benefits, how they might help employees with particular mental health needs, and any scheduling or budget considerations employees should be aware of when choosing which benefit(s) to use.
  2. Next, show employees how to use these benefits by walking them through the process. Whether it’s making a phone call, downloading an app, or finding a mental health care provider, providing this kind of support drastically increases the likelihood that employees will seek the care they need.
  3. Finally, repeat these steps often. The value of communicating often about mental wellness benefits is twofold — it provides a refresher for employees who might have forgotten about available resources or how to use them, and it drives home the point that getting help for behavioral health is normal and healthy.

As you consider the future of work experiences with mental health, use two-way communication to learn from your employees. Starting the conversation around mental health can be daunting, so once you’ve taken that leap, keep the momentum going.

Let your employees know you value their feedback and you’re open to troubleshooting problems together as a team. This will pave the way for enhanced communication down the road as you shift from talking about remedial actions for mental health conditions and begin to focus on prevention of those issues and proactive mental health care.

When You Support Employees’ Mental Health, Everyone Wins

Supporting employees’ mental health has numerous benefits, including an increased likelihood that they’ll be more productive and satisfied at work. This can lead to better work performance and higher retention, which makes for happy leaders.

Following the framework we’ve suggested also communicates to employees that they matter to you and your organization. That sense of belonging is invaluable for employees, especially during times of political unrest, economic upheaval, or a personal life change. When companies take a generous approach to the mental wellbeing of their employees, all parties reap the benefits. Remember, cultivate a safe and supportive company culture, increase mental health awareness, drive employees to mental health services and benefits — and everyone wins!