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How leaders can help fight stigma around mental healthcare in the workplace

May 20, 2021 | 5 min read

In the United States, there is a stigma around anxiety and depression. It’s a topic we don’t always feel comfortable talking about in general, let alone the workplace. 

But your employees’ mental health impacts their lives and their work alike. That’s why it is so important to challenge leaders and executives to take a new look at how we approach the struggles our employees and colleagues may be experiencing. And while it’s important to provide them tools for support, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), it’s equally key to ensure that members of your team feel they have permission to be human and discuss mental health challenges openly if they choose to. 

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting around 40 million adults each year. Unfortunately, only 36.9% of those impacted receive treatment – even though anxiety disorders are highly treatable.

Your leaders and executive teams can play a major role in ensuring employees are utilizing all the resources available to them to get the support they need. One key step on that path is removing the stigma around talking about mental health in the workplace and opening the door to meaningful conversations around your employees’ wellbeing. Here are five habits that executives and leaders can adopt to provide a positive work environment for all employees:

1. Don’t wait for people to come to you.

Be proactive about asking your employees how they are doing. Starting the conversation can provide a positive platform for open communication. This also helps lessen the stigma behind having these kinds of conversations. 

According to the ADAA, “264 million people worldwide live with depression.” That’s a large amount of the population that is impacted by these issues. Ensuring leaders are open to starting conversations about this topic can make the world of a difference for someone who may not feel comfortable initially sharing their feelings – or know how to bring up the topic.

2. When leaders find themselves in need of help, acknowledging that can create a permission structure for the rest of their team to be more open.

Sometimes all it takes is the leader being open and willing to share their own struggles to provide a platform for their employees to share their experiences and feelings. All of us, from leaders and executives to all levels of the company, have various struggles and needs. Having an open and honest dialogue about this can provide better support for all parties involved. It can also connect the team and break down barriers around seeking mental healthcare. 

3. Model behavior - it all starts from the top.

We always hear that company culture starts from the top down, and that is also true for the behaviors behind mental healthcare support. We recommend helping employees to utilize available Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and all the resources that come with them. 

It is also okay to rethink traditional EAPs and look for ways to supplement them or innovate to drive adoption of underutilized programs. We are looking for programs that truly do help employees. Our team has embraced Ginger as one resource we utilize to help our team access mental health resources such as coaching and therapy. 

And when it comes to EAPs or similar resources, try using the resources yourself. I personally test out each benefit we have as input to our own employee experience as well as to build that feedback into our capabilities that we offer to our customers. It can help you understand the benefits and see what opportunities are available to members. And it can demonstrate to members of your team that leveraging these programs is normal and expected. 

4. Develop in-house solutions for common issues.

Evaluate your business. Are there areas you can address in-house for common issues? 

The pandemic is one major example that brought on many new circumstances for all employers. We recognized that our team was feeling the stress of the situation and that it impacted everyone’s personal and work lives. Because of this, we implemented several new programs to support parents with young children and make it easier for families to embrace virtual learning while schools were closed. We offered flexible time during the workday to help with childcare needs, reduced work schedules for those requiring days off during the week, and Covid leave for those that needed to step away from work entirely for a period of time. We also put together a team of caregivers throughout all levels and job roles of our organization (including myself!) to talk about where we have personally been struggling and provide feedback on the specific needs of caregivers depending on their role, schedule, and job type as one solution does not typically fit all employees.

Consider what options you have available with your business to best support your employees, and don’t hesitate to get creative in developing solutions that can mitigate stress levels for your team. 

5. Have multiple lines of communication available to employees.

Communication is the key to success in overcoming the negative bias behind mental healthcare. Make sure employees know they have multiple lines of communication available, especially in the era of remote work. Make it clear that if your team wants to raise concerns, they feel free to do so over a communication channel they’re most comfortable.

Breaking down the long-standing stigma around seeking mental healthcare will not happen overnight. However, we can play our part to ensure these resources are available, talked about, and utilized. Leaders and executives can make a difference in the culture of the company and the way mental healthcare and support is discussed and provided to all employees. 

For more information on how Accolade can make it easier for your team to access the care they need, visit

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