Mental health at work: Tips to thrive

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 71% of adults in the United States have reported at least one emotional or mental stress symptom such as anxiety, being overwhelmed or having a headache. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 12 billion working days are lost per year due to mental health issues resulting in more than $1 trillion in lost productivity.  

  • According to the American Psychiatric Association, employees with unresolved depression experience a 35% reduction in productivity contributing to a loss to the U.S. economy of $210B a year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and medical costs.

Emotional and mental stress impacts our work life, overall engagement and job productivity. With mental health in the workplace essential to our overall well-being, it’s important to know what to do if your mental health at work adversely affects you. 

Check in with yourself

Being self-aware of how you are feeling is a good first step in assessing what might be affecting your mental health and work. Start by checking in with yourself and asking: “Is my mental health affecting work?” Try to identify if there are any physical or emotional reasons outside of work that might be causing you to feel fatigued, anxious or stressed.

  • Did you get enough sleep last night? 
  • Are you hungry?
  • Is something happening at home that might impact your mental health at work? 
  • Is there a physical or health concern influencing your mental health?

Work can also be the root cause of your mental health concerns, and here are some additional questions to consider if this could be the case:

  • What is making me feel this way at work?
  • Is there anything that could be improved to change the situation?
  • Do I need a break or time off for a mental health day?
  • What tasks at work make me happy?
  • What tasks at work feel daunting or overwhelming?
  • How would I rate my work-life balance?
  • How would I rate my interpersonal relationships at work?
  • Is my mental health affecting my work performance?

Using the above questions to evaluate what might be causing your emotional concerns at work could help you decide if you need to talk to someone about your struggles, make a change, or seek professional help. 

Talk to your employer

Once you have identified that you might need to address your workplace concerns with a supervisor, manager or possibly HR, there are some best practices around how to communicate what you are experiencing. Consider using the D.E.A.R. method, an acronym that stands for: 

  • D: Describe the situation with facts
  • E: Express your feelings about the situation
  • A: Assert your needs
  • R: Reinforce how the outcome will be a win-win

Open communication is a great way to work toward better mental health at work. Your company might be able to offer support to improve your mental health at work, may offer employer-sponsored mental health support, or you can brainstorm ideas together. 

However, be mindful of your words during the conversation and avoid emotionally charged accusations. Try to think of some potential solutions if possible.

Be assertive and set boundaries about the solutions you seek. Try to keep an open mind to other solutions offered. You can also work with management to improve the situation for yourself and all employees. 

Adapt habits that promote your mental health at work

Experts say there are healthy habits and lifestyle changes one can make that can positively impact mental health and well-being. Consider the following tips not just to improve your mental health at work, but your overall mental health, too. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Get enough sleep; aim for 7-9 hours a day 
  • Limit alcohol, smoking or drugs 
  • Move more often, get up from your desk or take walks
  • Take time to unwind during the day
  • Take some time off work

Surrounding yourself in a healthy environment at home and work is important. At work, this can mean making an effort to focus on the positive aspects of the job or putting up pictures of loved ones or places you would like to visit on your desk. 

At home, start an unwinding routine after work. When you get home, dedicate some time to unwind with an activity you enjoy so your body and mind know it's time to relax.

Know when to seek professional help

Sometimes our mental health concerns need more than lifestyle changes; we might need professional help. Use the check-in questions above to help identify when you might need to look for additional resources.

There are a few different types of mental health practitioners to explore. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and licensed mental health counselors can overlap in terms of the services they offer. These professionals may work together, depending on the situation. 

Typically a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who, in addition to counseling services, can prescribe medications and manage other health conditions. Psychologists have a graduate degree in psychology and provide counseling, psychological testing and psychotherapy. Social workers and counselors are trained to offer mental health evaluations and counseling.

If you are unsure where to start choosing a mental health practitioner, your healthcare provider can guide you on what type of help you might need. 

Additional mental health resources

Getting mental health help is crucial for your overall well-being. In addition to speaking to your healthcare provider, there are many resources available. Consider some of the following: