Mental Health and Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Mental Health and Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Movies often offer us a reflection of our society and its current state.

Through the decades, mental health is reflected in various lights.

Prior years have given us A Beautiful Mind, Silver Linings Playbook and Rain Man.

2019 brought us The Joker.

The depiction of mental illness in this film, shows the demise of an individual’s mental state,  however, it also depicts the challenges of mental health on society and its institutions.

Although the Joker depicts chronic, severe mental illness, the impact and costs of mental health issues on America and particularly in the workplace is skyrocketing.

Impact of Mental Health on the Workplace

In 2019, the United States saw an increase of deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide. Individuals and families are not the only ones impacted by mental health.

Organizations lose talent, productivity and time. They also pay higher costs due to the burden placed on the system by these mental health issues. If the trend continues, companies face to loose more and more with:

  • Increase of sick days
  • Increase of turn over
  • Need to hire
  • Poor performing employees
  • Ineffective, poor performing teams
  • Higher health care insurance premiums
  • Unhappy employees and negative workplace culture

Most organizations have human resource departments addressing various issues, including mental health through their insurance partnerships and Employee Assistant Programs (EAPs). Each of these has its own limitations. And neither have the capacity to address the current crisis in mental health.

Significantly, even when offered, a 2019 survey by Workplace Options showed that 42% of workplaces offered no support programs and even of the 47 % that offered programs, 11% of employees had no idea about the programs. In addition, the results need to change if employers want a healthy, productive workplace with healthy productive individuals.

Stigma leads to concealing

Most noteworthy, stigma also plays a huge role in the lack of outreach.  Moreover, movies, celebrity interviews and PR have not lessened the stigma felt by individuals with mental health issues. Disclosure of depression, anxiety, and even ADHD are often felt as an exposure that may result in negative consequences:

My boss will think

  • I’m weak
  • Will take a lot of time off
  • Won’t work as hard as my coworkers


My coworkers won’t

  • Support me
  • Will distance themselves
  • Won’t understand and judge me

These are some examples given by worried individuals needing support and unable to ask for it. They hide their mental health and this can become an additional stressor that makes it worse.

Creating Psychological Safety

Individuals won’t ask for help if it’s not safe to ask. Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as a “belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes”. Leaders from the top down must create this safety about mental health. In her TED talk she discusses specifically about how to build it in the workplace.

The message from Leaders must help to de-stigmatize mental health by developing structural aspects of the organization to communicate that the organization understands and actually has structures built to respond and support.

What needs to change:

  • Create a culture of openness from the top down, modeling well-being and disclosure.
  • Assess the needs of the employees and develop resources that address the needs.
  • Create prevention strategies to minimize workplace stressors that contribute to mental health issues.

Globally the US is behind in these efforts. With the continued rise of mental health in the US and the combination of stigma, lack of offered and accepted mental health resources through organizations and costs associated with the impact of mental health in the workplace,  Organizations are in a position to create better workplace solutions to the mental health crisis.

If you would like more information about developing resources to address mental health in the workplace or find out more about assessing your workplace culture for psychological safety, please contact us.

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