Bell Let's Talk Day: How to talk about mental health in the workplace

The pandemic highlighted the importance of mental wellbeing – now HR leaders must talk more openly with employees

Bell Let's Talk Day: How to talk about mental health in the workplace

As employers and employees across a Canada struggle to flex and adapt to living life with Omicron, Bell Let’s Talk Day aims to encourage those all-important conversations around mental wellbeing. Now in its 12th year, Bell Let’s Talk aims to eradicate the stigma of discussing phycological health in the workplace and raise money for research and funding into mental wellbeing.

Bell has promised to donate five cents every time #BellLetsTalk is used on Twitter and TikTok – as well as every call or text made by a Bell customer. In 2021, Bell managed to raise almost $8 million for phycological health funding across Canada – this year, with the pandemic having stretched mental health services to the extreme, their hoping to raise even more.

Why is Bell’s Let’s Talk so important?

“The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated mental health concerns and disorders among Canadians,” Janet Candido, founder of Candido Consulting Group, told HRD. “After nearly two years of the pandemic and with stricter lockdown measures recently put in place, mental health concerns have become much more prevalent in the workplace, making it important to learn how to deal with staff and colleagues struggling with their mental health. Bell Let’s Talk is an important annual event because it’s increased awareness and has helped to normalize the conversation surrounding mental health and mental illness. Each year, it works towards removing the stigma, while encouraging ‘Canadians and people worldwide to keep listening, keep talking and keep being there for ourselves and each other’.”

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For HR leaders, 2021 was a year of cataclysmic change and unprecedented upheaval. Overnight digitization and the pivot to remote work led to a rise in anxiety, depression, and isolation for many employees – leaving leaders worried about the collective state of their teams’ wellbeing. Data from Statistics Canada found that one in five Canadians suffered from depression throughout the pandemic – yet, worryingly, only 23% of employees actually felt comfortable talking to their HR leaders about this. This communication fail is only fuelling the current mental health crisis – and it’s incumbent on HR teams to bridge that gap.

How to start a discussion around mental wellbeing

“Employers have to go beyond simply recognizing mental health, they have to start normalizing the conversation around it as well,” added Candido. “When HR leaders are speaking to a department or team, they should be able to speak openly about the challenges many people are suffering from and even be open about their own personal experiences. Encourage staff to be considerate and non-judgmental toward colleagues who’re going through a difficult time and, most importantly, don’t try to diagnose them. At the end of the day, employers aren’t qualified therapists, so employees aren’t looking for their manager to get to the bottom of why they’re feeling the way they are. Instead, the employer should be understanding of the situation and provide resources available to their employees that can help.”

Candido’s point of remaining compassionate yet detached is an important, yet tricky, skill to master. HR leaders need to listen to concerns without trying to diagnose the employee. For instance, saying things such as ‘you aren’t yourself lately’ or ‘you seem to be struggling’ should be avoided. Instead, try starting with ‘how are you?’.

“It’s a much better approach and the employee won’t feel as nervous or attacked about their work performance,” Candido said. “Ask this twice - because after the first time, they'll likely respond by saying everything is fine, when in fact it’s not. Asking again shows the concern is authentic and the employee might feel more comfortable to open up.”

Talking to employees that’re struggling with their mental health

If you think that one of your employees may be struggling with their mental health, don’t sit back and feign ignorance. Instead, start by having company-wide talks and de-stigmatizing real discussions. Speak to the C-suite about starting wellbeing days, offering employee retreats, or even promoting paid time off for mental health concerns. There’s a lot of support out there from organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), that provide free resources for employers and employees looking to invest more in psychological health.

Read more: How to build a connected culture for remote workers

“It’s important to communicate to employees with empathy and remain non-judgmental, while keeping the focus on them during the conversation,” added Candido. “Don’t minimize or suggest you know what they’re going through and start talking about yourself. Refrain from pushing them to talk to you about what they’re going through, especially if they’re not comfortable. Instead, make sure it’s clear that you’re open to discuss when they’re ready.

“Create a safe environment so employees feel open to talk about their mental health concerns and how it’s affecting their work. This means managers need to ensure that there’s no perceived reprisals to the employee for speaking about their mental health concerns.”

Mental health hotlines

If you feel like you’re struggling with mental health issues at this time, HRD has collected some helpful resources and hotlines to offer support.

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