3 Ways Every HR Manager Can Reduce Workplace Mental Health Issues

by Victoria Maxwell, republished with permission www.victoriamaxwell.com

As an HR manager, you already know mental health issues are taking a toll in your workplace. But you may be at odds as to how to effectively and comfortably address them. How do you get comfortable talking about mental health issues in the workplace? You need concrete tools to help staff feel comfortable reaching out for help and skills to offer co-workers so they’re equipped to support a colleague.

The good news is you can do this with relatively little financial investment.

It’s a process, takes commitment and consistency, but creating exceptionally healthy workplaces always do. And I bet, as an HR expert, you’re already passionate about creating positive changes for the people and organization you support.

People do and can recover from mental illnesses with timely and appropriate treatment. People, like myself, return to living rich, full lives and have satisfying and productive careers. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I was extremely depressed and even suicidal for a time. But, with the right support, and that meant the right support at work, I returned to be a productive employee and eventually opened my own thriving business.

You are part of the solution.

Below are three resources that will help. Begin to implement some of the following and your workplace ecology will positively shift. You’ll see staff flourish, along with the bottom line.

1. The Wizards of O.A.R.S. (Observe, Approach, Refer, Support) free e-guide.

I created this e-guide to help individuals become comfortable when wanting to support an employee or co-worker. It’s a step-by-step framework of what to do when a colleague may be dealing with a mental health issue. Read it and see if it brings more confidence to your conversations about mental health issues in your workplace.

Oars bring balance, stability, and direction to a boat. So too can people give support and guidance to those around them who may be facing mental health issues. The following is for non-urgent situations. If you feel the individual is at risk of harming themselves or others, immediate care should be sought at the nearest emergency ward. Download the guide for a detailed description of each step and more tips.

Observe – changes in behavior, length present

Approach + Listen– discuss concerns in terms of behavior. Focus on actions

  • I’ve observed that or I see that… (ie: you’re not joining us for lunch anymore or you’ve been missing meetings or you’ve had more accidents lately)
  • I’m concerned… (ie: you don’t seem like yourself or you seem to have less energy than usual…)
  • How can we support you at work to help improve things for you or What can we do to improve things at work for you?
  • Then…LISTEN (Active listening skills are needed – Here’s a short video that gives tips on this particular kind of listening)

Refer – to resources in the workplace and/or community  (i.e. EAP, counseling, support groups, etc.) Also please visit the resource page to download a Mental Health Resource Guide for additional tools.

Support – as best as you can. Use active listening skills (see above).

2. Proactively supports employees’ mental health by implementing some of the evidence-based guidelines of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has endorsed these standards as a way of working towards and positively affecting the mental health of your most valued investment: your workers.

Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace materials can be found here.

3. Check out Mental Health First Aid programs, here. Like physical first aid courses, they teach how to confidently help someone dealing with a mental health issue or crisis until the appropriate support arrives.

As a human resource manager, you juggle many responsibilities. You have the power to influence the work environment and the health and productivity of the staff. Use your power for good and create a legacy that includes creating a mentally flourishing workforce.

Look for a future post describing in more detail the step by step process of O.A.R.S. or if you want a customized workshop based around it, contact me at victoria@victoriamaxwell.com

© Victoria Maxwell

Victoria Maxwell, BFA, BPP*  is a sought-after international (and funny) keynote speaker, performing artist and workshop leader. She uses her personal story of recovery from mental illness to increase awareness, transform negative beliefs and ignite powerful conversations about mental health.

Blending 30 years as an actor, and 15 as a wellness warrior, Victoria inspires people to take immediate action to improve their well-being. Learn more about Victoria here.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Workplace

An estimated 8 percent of Americans—roughly 24.4 million — suffer from PTSD-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is equal to the entire population of the state of Texas. An estimated one in nine women will develop PTSD in their lifetime, making them twice as likely as men to experience the disorder.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Department of Veteran Affairs, and Sidran Institute, the societal and economic burden of PTSD is extremely heavy.

PTSD is recognized as a psychobiological mental disorder that can affect survivors not only of combat experience, but also terrorist attacks, natural disasters, serious accidents, assault or abuse, or even sudden and major emotional losses.       http://www.ptsdunited.org/ptsd-statistics-2/

People experiencing PTSD often notice its effects in the workplace.  Oftentimes, the level of success one has at his or her place of employment depends on many factors including the level of impairment, and support both outside and inside the work environment.  Accommodations that employers implement may be the same as for other individuals who need short-term, or occasionally longer-term support for other issues in order to be a successful employee.

The good news is that individuals with PTSD are successful on a daily basis, with and without support.  A diagnosis of PTSD or other mental health diagnoses need not prevent an individual from being successful in work, and in life in general.  It is always important to treat every employee as an individual and work on their strengths and weaknesses.

Tips for Employers and Supervisors to successfully assist those experiencing PTSD include:

  • Identify what specific tasks may be challenging. At times, PTSD symptoms may manifest themselves in cognitive challenges. An employee may need more time to finish a task or need an office which has fewer distractions.


  • Identify specifically how you can assist. The best way to find out how you can assist someone is to ask. This may be something that develops over time as the employee may not be aware of limitations until he or she runs into them. An open dialogue about how the employer can assist would be helpful from the beginning.


  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the environment and the employee. If there are times that the employee is having a hard time or tasks that are not up to standards, speak directly to that employee about how you can assist them. Providing gentle and immediate feedback will allow the employee to determine what is needed to get the task back up to standards.


  • Provide training for coworkers and supervisors. By providing training on PTSD and related symptoms, the other staff members can also be educated on how to help the individual. Sensitivity training may be needed on topics that are related to PTSD.


The State Department of Veteran Affairs in Washington provides information and resources for those experiencing PTSD, such as an Outpatient Counseling Provider List:


and additional services for veterans and their families http://www.dva.wa.gov/resource-contacts/ptsdwar-trauma-outpatient-counseling-program-providers-list

or contact NAMI for your local Washington chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness for additional resources for employees and employers