Mental Health Awareness

Beyond Awareness: Creating a Culture of Support for Mental Health at Work

By Melissa Andrada, (Mel — she/they), a Candor Coach, DEI & Mental Health strategic consultant, leadership coach, workshop facilitator, and motivational speaker who collaborates with organizations to co-design cultures of inclusion and innovation.

Psychological safety is a key dynamic of a high-performing team. The presence of psychological safety means we can be vulnerable in front of each other, speak our minds, make mistakes, and share honest feedback. 

We know feedback is key for high-impact growth. Yet, sharing feedback can be hard when we know our colleagues are enduring difficult mental health conditions.

How can we embody mental health awareness and the principles of Radical Candor — caring personally and challenging directly — to create a culture of psychological safety to make it safer for people at work who are emotionally or mentally suffering to ask for help?

Mental Health Awareness

The language and suggestions I offer in this post are invitational and must be adapted to the needs of the individual, situation, and organization.

Be mindful of your boundaries and capacity — and know when to refer someone to an outside clinical mental health specialist. 

As a mental health practitioner and the writer of this post, I want to gently remind you to take three deep breaths from your diaphragm and drink a glass of water if you find this content heavy. <3

Mental Health Awareness — Addressing Cultural Complexities

@hbeau47 #diversity #education #counselor #therapy #antiwar #peace #privilege ♬ original sound – Elle | College Counseling

 
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses worldwide. In the United States, anxiety disorder impacts 18% of American adults and as many 33% at any point in their life, according to the Archives of General Psychiatry

In 2019, the World Health Organization reported that it impacted 301 million people worldwide. Depression disorder also is a common mental condition, affecting 280 million people worldwide.

The World Health Organization recently reported that an estimated 12 billion working days will be lost to untreated depression and anxiety by the year 2030, resulting in a global cost of $925 billion.

As a DEI & Mental Health strategic consultant, leadership coach, workshop facilitator, and motivational speaker, I intend to bring more skillfulness and sensitivity to interactions with our colleagues enduring the deepest emotional suffering to evoke a culture of compassionate high performance.

This post was inspired by my own experiences with grief and post-traumatic stress disorder after the tragic passing of my father in 2020. 

These learnings are based on my experience coaching and facilitating workshops for more than 50 Radical Candor clients on difficult feedback situations over the past four years, alongside my in-progress Master’s in Clinical Psychology and Expressive Arts Therapy at the California Institute of Integral Studies. 

Mental Health awareness

I invite you to bring the dual lens of DEI and mental health to the practice of Radical Candor — and to consider the individuals, identities, and groups most impacted by depression and anxiety, due to inequities within our workplaces and larger society. 

To name a few poignant data points, women are twice as likely as men to experience generalized anxiety disorder. In the United States, higher levels of income inequality are correlated with higher rates of depression. 

The chronicity of major depression, alongside under-diagnosis and under-treatment, is most prevalent among Black and Hispanic communities in America.

I encourage you to bring the widely used ADDRESSING mental health framework created by Pamela Hays to facilitate an individually attuned understanding of each person on your work team as I walk through two common feedback scenarios.

Mental Health Awareness — Feedback Scenarios

Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness Scenario 1

A peer experienced the sudden loss of a family member seven months ago and openly shared a recent diagnosis of major depression. You noticed they’ve missed four deadlines in the past month.

Throughout the past two years you’ve worked with them, they have rarely missed a deadline. How might you compassionately share your feedback?

Major Depression Symptoms
Understand the psychological impact of depression 

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day 
  • Diminished interest in activities 
  • Significant weight loss
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping 
  • Fatigue or loss of energy 
  • Feeling of worthlessness 
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation

 
Come with a non-judgmental presence and caring curiosity.

  • “How are you feeling today?”
  • Genuinely listen to the answer without immediately trying to solve the problem or change how someone feels.  

Re-enforce your commitment to their growth and healing. 

  • “I know you’re going through a lot right now. We want to support you — what’s the best way to do that?”
  • “I can imagine the loss of [insert name of family member] has been really hard.  I want to be there for you as best as possible — what would be most helpful?”

Compassionately offer your observation on their work. 

  • “I’ve noticed you’ve missed four deadlines in the past month. I’m wondering what you might need.”
  • Assume positive intent, and listen with the intent to understand what they might be struggling with. 

Communicate empathetic expectations and boundaries. 

  • “I know it’s been a hard time. And I want to gently say that our project is important for [insert 1-3 key goals] and your contribution is important and integral to our team.”
  • Emphasizing their unique contribution can help them connect to a deeper sense of purpose and meaning at work. According to grief expert David Kessler, meaning is the sixth stage of grief.

Share your vulnerability and humanity. 

Mental health Awareness: 1:1 meetings

 

  • “Naming this is hard for me too. I want to be as compassionate as possible.”
  • “I’m also human and imperfect, too, and learning to be more skillful.”

Come with collaboration. 

  • “What can we do to support you?”
  • “What do you need?”

Time and expectations. 

  • Modification of goals, expectations, and people resourcing 
  • Daily 1:1s support and accountability check-ins 
  • Extended bereavement leave
  • Part-time hours (e.g. 3-4 days a week) 
  • Flexible working 

Accessibility and privacy. 

  • Safe space to name their accessibility needs with colleagues 
  • Ability to turn off their camera during meetings

Offer external resources. 

  • Therapist recommendations (ideally in-network and values-aligned) 
  • Grief coach and healer recommendations
  • Grief group recommendations 
  • Massage therapist and somatic bodyworker recommendations 
  • Yoga and meditation recommendations

A U.S.-based compilation of therapy directories where you may find someone specific to your needs:

Mental Health Awareness Scenario 2

@dr.kojosarfo It’s possible to live your best life, I believe in you! 🏆 #socialanxiety #confidence #makingfriends ♬ meet me at our spot by willow smith and tyler cole – The Favourites.

 
A colleague who joined your team a month ago has shared a recent diagnosis of social anxiety. You’ve noticed they are vocal in 1:1s but they do not speak during team meetings. How might you compassionately share your feedback? 

Social Anxiety Symptoms
Understand the psychological impact of anxiety 

  • Persistent, lasting more than six months 
  • Marked fear or anxiety about social situations, exposed to possible scrutiny (e.g. giving a presentation, meeting unfamiliar people). 
  • Individual believes their anxiety symptoms will lead to embarrassment or humiliation 
  • Social situations almost always provoke intense fear or anxiety 
  • Social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety 
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation

If this content feels heavy — or is even making you feel anxious, that’s OK. Sitting with difficult material is how we become more compassionate and skillful as leaders and managers. Take a deep inhalation for three seconds, and exhale for six seconds.

When your exhalations are longer than your inhalations, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for sleep and rest.

Mental Health Awareness Yoga

Come with a non-judgmental presence and caring curiosity.

  • “I know you just joined our team. How have the first four weeks been for you?”
  • Similar to our first example of depression, genuinely listen to their response without immediately trying to solve the problem or change the way someone feels.  

Share your commitment to their integration with the team.

“We’d love to help you feel a part of the team, and to feel resourced and supported to be successful in your role.”

Hold a safe space for them to name their fears.

“I’m grateful you shared your recent diagnosis. I know it might be anxiety-inducing to speak in front of a new team. What comes up for you when you think about speaking?”

Common social anxiety fears:

@idkagoodusernaameloll #socialanxiety #mentalhealth #fyp #awareness ♬ in my head – frank iero wannabe

 

  • Fear of being judged
  • Fear f*cking up 
  • Fear of being imperfect 
  • Fear of saying the wrong thing 
  • Fear of making a mistake 
  • Fear of being talked over 
  • Fear of being perceived as inferior 

Help them feel less alone.

  • If it feels genuine: “I sometimes struggle speaking in front of others too.”
  • “It’s OK to be afraid. It’s a part of being human. I’m sure you’re not the only one who feels this way on the team.”

Highlight their potential and unique perspective, and come with a trauma-informed invitation.

“I really value your expertise and opinion. [insert key insight they’ve uniquely shared in 1:1, email or another form of communication]. We’d love to hear your voice in our meetings if that’s something you’re comfortable trying. I understand it’s a journey and takes time.” 

Support them in connecting to passion and purpose.

  • What are you passionate about? What can you not stop talking about?
  • What excites you about sharing your perspective? 

Come with collaboration.

  • “What can we do to support you?”
  • “What do you need?”

Social anxiety team safety.

@reallygoodtalkerTake space leave space #♬ original sound – Yordi

 

  • Create a team meeting agreement that invites people, to “Take Space/ Make Space” 
  • Notice who’s speaking, not speaking
  • Set up meetings of 3-4 people to help them get used to speaking in groups
  • Email topics and questions of discussion before the meeting 
  • Create space for self-reflection and individual reporting 
  • In large meetings, create small groups of 2-3 people to help your colleague easy into speak

Accessibility and privacy.

  • Encourage your colleague to share over chat, and elevate their expertise through voice as the meeting leader, “I appreciate [insert insight] what [insert name] shared over chat.” 
  • Encourage your colleague to share over direct message if they’re not yet comfortable with group chat 
  • Ability to turn off their camera during virtual meetings
  • Introduce a compassionate ‘office buddy’ to help them feel safer at work 
  • Hold weekly 1:1 meetings with them so they can share their anxieties and insecurities at work in a safe space.

Offer external resources.

  • Therapist recommendations (ideally in-network and values-aligned) 
  • Public speaking coach and healer recommendations
  • Improv and acting class recommendations 
  • Yoga and meditation recommendations

It’s OK not to be OK. It’s OK to ask for support. You are not alone.

 
Talking about depression and anxiety can be hard, particularly in the context of feedback, yet when we are skillfully clear, compassionate, and culturally sensitive as leaders and managers, we can strengthen psychological safety in our team relationships. 

Attuning our expectations, feedback, and support to the unique context, needs and strengths of our people will lead to higher retention and impact. At the end of the day, all most people want is to feel safe, seen, and supported. #mentalhealthawareness

What would work for you? What do you need? Let us know on social media:

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If you need resources for mental health support at work in the U.S., Mental Health America offers toolkits for employees and employers. The Center for Workplace Mental Health offers information about anxiety in the workplace.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988 lifeline.org. You can also visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

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