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Mental illness is pervasive, with one in five adults experiencing its effects in a given year. Chances are you have a friend, family member, or coworker living with a mental illness—although you may not know it. For the 46.6 million people who are impacted by mental illness, Mental Illness Awareness Month is likely not something they openly acknowledge because of the stigma that comes along with revealing their struggle.

Why Should Companies Care About Mental Health?

Mental illness contributes to 62% of missed workdays and costs the American economy $193.2 billion in losses each year. Addressing mental health in the workplace improves employee productivity and well-being, ultimately supporting the mission of companies and organizations that take the time to invest in employees’ mental well-being. In a fast-paced, client-focused research environment such as the one at Fors Marsh Group (FMG), it can be difficult to avoid burnout while pursuing excellence in your work. This pursuit can be even more difficult for people who live with a mental illness.

Employees fear losing their jobs and being labeled as lazy, incompetent, or even dangerous when an employer learns that they have a mental illness. This stigma keeps people from seeking treatment, often causing them to struggle in silence at work and in their personal lives.

How Can Companies Support Mental Health?

It is more than just creating a policy and checking a box for being a good workplace. Addressing mental illness among employees starts with organizational leadership and permeates the company culture so that everyone is empowered to develop a work–life balance that allows them to perform at their best. Based on our practices to improve the wellness of our 250+ employees around the country, here are four ways your company can support mental health at work:

  1. Put People First

This is one of FMG’s core values. Not only do we put people first when conducting impactful research, but we also understand that our employees are our most valuable asset. Putting people first means building a culture of support that empowers employees to take care of themselves, so they can take care of our clients. Providing benefits that encourage healthy lifestyles, including gym memberships, bike to work, and employment assistance programs (EAP) are a great initial step to prioritizing your employees’ well-being.

Additionally, encouraging a work–life balance helps employees take control of their mental health. Flexible work hours, providing personal health days (i.e., mental and physical health days), and allowing telework can provide the autonomy people need to stay balanced. Best of all, these policies boost job satisfaction and productivity for all employees, not just those with mental health conditions.

  1. Create Meaningful Connections at Work

Building strong, meaningful connections with coworkers is a key element of managing mental health at work. FMG encourages regular social activities and opportunities for employees to interact beyond their roles on the job, such as doing community-based volunteer activities and celebrating company milestones together.

Check in regularly with employees, establish mentor systems, and encourage leadership to engage with every level of employee at the office. Being valued by a company on a personal level helps employees feel more socially connected and boosts mental health.

Provide supervisor training that promotes empathy as a major component of management. Empathy and emotional intelligence equip supervisors to identify people who might need additional resources to manage their mental health. Empathy is also one of the key drivers to reducing mental illness stigma and helps establish meaningful connections between colleagues who genuinely care about each other.                                                                                     

  1. Learn How to Talk About Mental Health

Often, people living with a mental illness are good at faking wellness. The signs are tough to spot, and many people go to great lengths to conceal their personal experiences. But it is important to remind everyone—even those who are silent about their mental health—that they work in a stigma-free environment in which support is available.

Avoid using stigmatizing language about mental illness. It is easy to use terms in everyday discourse—such as “that’s depressing,” “she must be crazy,” or “he’s so OCD about that”—without realizing that you are contributing to stigma. Mental illnesses are real conditions, and flippant use of these terms belittles those who live with mental illness every day. Call this type of language out when you see it.

Include mental health discussions in all your organization’s communications about health and wellness. Corporate wellness programs are on the rise, but many overlook the mental aspect of health. When talking about health and wellness, remember to include mental health language in the mix. The goal is to normalize taking care of your mind just as we do our bodies.

If someone chooses to talk to you about his or her mental health, take the time to listen. You may not know what he or she is going through, but showing that you care can mean a world of difference. Ask how you can best provide support, and respect whatever method he or she identifies as most helpful.

  1. Offer a Variety of Support

Everyone’s mental health journey is unique. It can be a temporary experience or a lifelong condition, a small hurdle or an impenetrable wall. Some people are comfortable discussing it, whereas others want their condition to remain private. Support should be offered in a variety of forms to remain accessible to a range of situations.

Here are a few examples that show the scope of support workplaces can provide:

  • Cover therapy costs in your employee health care plan.
  • Consider inviting a counselor to give a seminar on mental health at work.
  • Provide meditation or quiet rooms to promote taking a step back from busy schedules.
  • Pay attention to engagement surveys and adapt to employees’ needs.
  • Offer options that are anonymous or can be accessed from home.
  • Provide monthly or weekly tips in newsletters or emails.
  • Add mental health modules to internal training sites.

A person’s mental health does not define him or her as an employee. By putting people first, your company can ensure a culture of support that helps your business and all employees thrive.

Learn more about FMG’s people first culture.

About the author

Dr. Stephanie Miles

Dr. Stephanie Miles has over 4 years of experience conducting communications research and more than 4 years leading strategic communications campaigns. Her research has focused on the impact of social media on attitudes and behaviors concerning mental illness, cyberbullying, and obesity. She has conducted surveys to gauge public opinion, developed experiments to test social media messages, and conducted focus groups to supplement quantitative data in school-based cyberbullying interventions. Her strategic communications experience includes multimedia campaign work to increase awareness of agricultural research initiatives and execution of social media tactics to encourage healthy eating behaviors in children. As a member of FMG’s Communication Research and Strategy Team, she assists with the development of research planning and campaign evaluation. 

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