Mental health comes out of the closet.

Jennifer DaSilva

President, Berlin Cameron

Within the fast-paced, stressful, it-was-due-yesterday agency world, those three little words aren’t asked often enough between managers and employees—or, for that matter, even between colleagues. Although strides have been made in recent years, checking in on someone’s overall mental health, which can manifest itself in more serious cases as anxiety or depression, has been considered taboo. But with some recent developments, I’m hopeful that the stigma and unfortunate silence around mental health can be lifted and that we can all be part of a more open, more productive dialogue.

The lack of communication around mental health is part of a larger problem: the idea that being too open about anxiety, depression or other concerns might affect your career in a negative way. According to recent research conducted by Kantar Health, Lightspeed and Berlin Cameron, only about one in four women is open about their mental health and wellness with colleagues. And despite that low number, men are 25 percent less likely than women to open up about it. A lot of it is because employees don’t feel supported—one in three women believes that opening up about mental health would damage her career.

CHECKING IN ON SOMEONE’S OVERALL

MENTAL HEALTH HAS BEEN TABOO.

But with those staggering numbers behind the issue, why am I optimistic?

For one, we’re starting to see a movement toward a less hierarchical management style that is more open, more vulnerable and more collaborative. In a recent study about the power of vulnerability in the workplace by Ellevate Network and Berlin Cameron, 96% of professional women surveyed reported that they learn more from a leader who shows vulnerability than one who doesn’t. Managers who are vulnerable are no longer seen as weak. Instead, they’re viewed as authentic and relatable. Along with that comes more opportunities for real conversations, in which emotions aren’t a negative and managers and team members feel safe to be real with one another. I, for one, have started to put this into practice with my team and it has led to more honest communication. As leadership continues to evolve this way, I’m hopeful that mental health will be on the table as a topic that we’re all comfortable enough to discuss and to address, if need be.

And secondly, I’m inspired by some of the world’s best and brightest companies, which are making it not only safe to talk about mental health in the workplace, but also encouraging employees to open up. They’re putting real, constructive, supportive programs in place that can help change the conversation. Consulting giant EY has launched its We Care program, an extension of its original “r u ok?” initiative, to further address mental health and addiction. Its platform asks employees to Notice, Ask, Listen and Act, encouraging communication and putting caring into action. During a recent Finding Her Balance day-long program we hosted at Berlin Cameron, Christine Young, Supervising Associate at EY Assist (EY’s employee assistance program), helped to open the discussion about how colleagues and managers can help break the stigma around mental health.

ONE IN THREE WOMEN BELIEVES THAT OPENING UP ABOUT MENTAL

HEALTH WOULD DAMAGE HER CAREER.

In the agency world, we’re faced with constant deadlines, long workdays that don’t always end when you’ve left the office and the pressure to please clients. It’s all too easy to avoid asking someone else how they’re doing or to answer the question with a quick “fine” then hustle off to finish your never-ending to-do list. But small steps can lead to bigger change, whether it’s asking a stressed-out employee to coffee, hosting lunch-and-learns around how to address mental health or simply sharing some of your own struggles with a teammate. There are ways to open up the dialogue that don’t have to be part of a larger corporate program.

We talk a lot about whole-mind and body wellness being a consumer trend, but it’s interesting that we haven’t brought it into focus on the corporate level. In our research, more than 70 percent of women thought that their workplace did not have a mental health policy or, if the company did, they were unaware of it and thought that only 47 percent of companies are proactive about mental health in the workplace. It’s time for senior leadership to take notice. Only with open communication will we have a stronger, healthier workplace.