Mental Health Awareness Month in the Workplace

Mental Health does Matter, especially in the workplace - More now than ever before
Mental Health Awareness Month in the Workplace
Kyla Göbel

The purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month is to raise awareness and educate society about mental illnesses: people suffering from depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, as well as the realities of living with these conditions and strategies for attaining mental health and wellness.

Mental Health Month was established in 1949 to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in Americans’ lives , and to celebrate recovery from mental illness. This has also started to motivate other countries to participate each May and help the public understand that mental health is essential for a person’s overall health.

This year, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Month is Tools 2 Thrive; providing practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their personal situation.

History of Mental Health America

The history of Mental Health America is the extraordinary story of one person (Clifford W. Beers), who turned a personal struggle with mental illness into a national movement . While in these institutions (suffering with bipolar), Beers learned firsthand of the shortcomings in care, as well as the cruel and inhumane treatment people with mental illnesses received. After witnessing  and experiencing the horrific abuse at the hands of his caretakers, he knew something had to change.

In 1908, he published his autobiography, A Mind That Found Itself, which roused the nation to the plight of people with mental illnesses and set a new movement in motion. On February 19, 1909, Beers, along with philosopher William James and psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, embraced a new future for mental health by creating the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, later the National Mental Health Association and now known as Mental Health America.To read more about Mental Health America follow this link.

Why should we care as a society?

Talking about a person’s mental health used to be a big taboo and was normally swept under the rug if something had happened in families or even to co-workers/neighbours. What has changed? People have started to realize that mental illness is more common than we think, that it can be treated, as well as the fact that people’s mental health have been pushed to its limits during the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the world was forced to stand still, people were forced to deal with the problems they kept running from. This created the opportunity for people to become more introspective, looking at their own actions and the environment they find themselves in.

“Nearly 9 in 10 employees report that their workplace stress affects their mental health. Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed (somewhat to strongly agreed) that their workplace stress affects their mental health.” — Mental Health America Workplace Health Survey 2021

Several recent studies came to the following disturbing conclusion: Your workplace does have an effect on your mental health. Read that sentence again.

What does this mean?

The responsibility to look after one’s mental health does not only fall on the individual at work, but also the company that they work for.

According to the Mind the Workplace Survey done by Mental Health America in 2021, a shocking result was found:

• Nearly 3 in 5 employees feel that their employer does not provide a safe environment for employees who live with mental illness.
• Over 56 percent of respondents disagreed that their employers provide a safe and welcoming environment for employees who live with mental illnesses.
• Less than 5 percent of respondents strongly agreed with this statement.

How can we change this?

1. Get employees talking.

Make sure your company has an inclusive and engaged atmosphere. Create an environment in which employees feel safe to talk to people, especially their own co-workers. Use tools such as employee engagement apps, pulse surveys and online games to increase vulnerability amongst the company.

“Talking to a supervisor to change stressful things about work was most strongly correlated with the healthiest overall workplace health scores.
“Open and honest discussions between supervisors and employees about job stressors is one important area of focus for employers concerned about employee mental health and healthy work environments.” — Mental Health America

2. Educate leaders about Mental health

The days are gone when you simply give pamphlets at work or watch a video as a group about mental health. Instead, you need to have active mental health seminars/webinars. Managers and leaders, along with HR, need to actively train themselves via short courses and sessions with therapists to understand what their employees are needing during this time.

They need to run performance reviews and pulse surveys anonymously to ask employees how management can improve their response to mental health at the workplace. In addition, the senior team must find out from employees how they can create a place where everyone’s mental health is prioritised looked after.

“Employers who do not provide and educate employees about mental health resources are less likely to be perceived as a safe environment for employees who live with mental illnesses,” according to Mental Health America. The Mind the Workplace study found that of the employees who felt least informed about emotional support resources, an overwhelming 85%  felt that their employers don’t provide a safe and welcome work environment — especially for those employees who live with mental illnesses.

3. Actively take part in Mental Health Awareness Month

Employees want to see that their employers are taking part in initiatives such as Mental Health Awareness Month. Why? It shows that you truly care.

People want to know that you care about them and their mental health. If you can educate co-workers about mental health they will be more comfortable at work. Moreover, employees who feel acknowledged at work are less likely to seek out other employment opportunities.

77% of employees who feel acknowledged and accepted at work, are not looking for a new job.


Mental health is just as important as physical health, in some respects even more so, because you can’t keep your physical health intact without a healthy mental capacity. Imagine a world where everyone matters — being able to be the best version of yourself. Imagine having the best of both worlds — being productive AND knowing that your workplace is a safe space for you.

About the author

Kyla Göbel: A new writer, from Cape Town, who has a passion for music, photography and people. She is also currently finding her way in the digital marketing sphere at Hi5. In addition, Kyla fundamentally believes there is a creative solution to everything in life, and that with hard work anything is possible.