Breaking the Stigma: Normalizing Workplace Conversations Around Mental Health

Posted May 28, 2024 under:

Leading Workplace Mental Health Conversations

As healthcare leaders, we have the opportunity to create a supportive workplace that encourages open conversations about mental wellbeing. Explore practical strategies for breaking down barriers and growing a culture of understanding and support.

Finding Strength in Vulnerability

Normalizing mental health conversations, leading by example, and providing comprehensive resources cultivates a supportive environment and promotes employee safety and wellbeing.

Mental health challenges impact millions of people worldwide, yet the stigma surrounding these issues often prevents open and honest conversations. Silence about the realities of mental health can lead to feelings of isolation, shame, and a reluctance to seek help. As leaders in healthcare, it’s important to create a supportive environment that encourages open discussion, support, and understanding.

The Power of Example

Leaders who openly discuss their own mental health experiences create a work environment where employees feel more comfortable sharing their own struggles. When executives and managers are transparent about their personal challenges and the strategies that have helped them cope, workplace conversations around mental health become more normalized. Employees see that their leaders are not immune to mental health issues and that it’s acceptable to talk about these challenges openly.

Melissa Jones, Manager of Operations at WestHealth Surgery Center and co-chair of SCA Health’s Stigma-Free Teammate Resource Group (TRG), emphasizes the importance of leaders talking openly about mental health issues.

“I think if we can be brave enough to say, for those of us who have mental health issues or family members who have mental health issues, ‘this is an issue that I have or my family has,’ particularly in leadership, that opens the door for others to say, ‘I do too,’ or ‘I have a family member that does too.’” Jones said. “That then opens up people’s willingness to talk about it.”

Avoiding a Culture of Shame

Breaking down mental health stigmas in the workplace can be challenging, but it starts with creating a culture of openness and acceptance. Jones identifies fear as one of the biggest obstacles to normalizing these conversations.

“I think that’s probably the biggest challenge, that if one talks about their mental health issues or what led to them, people will look at them differently,” she says.

To overcome these legitimate fears, healthcare leaders should intentionally facilitate discussion around mental health at both an individual and organizational level. Policy (and practice) should make it clear that mental health is just as important as physical health and treat it with the same level of gravity and importance. Organizations should also promote the use of any available mental health resources—such as mental health days, wellness programs, or other support—and include culturally competent language around mental health in training materials.

However, creating a supportive environment is not solely the responsibility of leadership. Jones emphasizes that everyone in an organization has a part to play in holding each other accountable.

“When you’re in the break room, and you hear, for example, gossip about someone taking time off work for depression, it’s important to stop that kind of conversation and nastiness,” she said. “I think that starts with everybody. It’s a part of our integrity and a part of who we are as an organization.”

When engaging in difficult conversations, it’s important not to overthink it. Showing a willingness to simply listen can go a long way in encouraging others to speak up. There should be no shame in reaching out for help. Similarly, being conscious of language and avoiding derogatory terms – like “crazy” or “insane” – to reference mental health problems can create a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture.

Education, Awareness, and Solidarity

Dedicated internal groups, such as SCA Health’s Stigma-Free TRG, can play a crucial role in normalizing conversations about mental health. Stigma-Free organizes regular educational webinars on topics such as human trafficking, suicide prevention, and childhood issues like bullying.

“Every time we have one of these webinars, so many people come out of the woodwork and say ‘Yes, this has happened to me,’ or ‘I know somebody who this has happened to,’ or ‘I need some help and assistance,” Jones said. “It gives them the courage to speak.”

They also provide resources and support for teammates, including a well-being calendar during particularly stressful times of the year. However, Jones acknowledges that reaching all teammates can be a challenge.

“When we do activities and education during the workday, center-level teammates are often busy taking care of patients,” she explained. “This issue is not unique to the Stigma-Free TRG. We’ve taken additional steps to get some of this education to them. This includes recording our sessions and sending them out via email so they can watch them on their own time.”

Despite these obstacles, Stigma-Free remains committed to expanding its reach and impact.

“We’ve been thinking about how to get more involvement within the centers and down to the teammate level,” Jones said. “The group that’s doing our next webinar has educational resources available, so Stigma-Free is going to offer to educate at least one person in each center, up to 500 people, on how to identify individuals who come into the center and then what to do if you identify somebody who is involved in human trafficking.”


Normalizing workplace mental health conversations is especially important in the healthcare industry, where 46% of workers report feeling burned out. To support the mental health of their employees, healthcare organizations must prioritize creating a culture of openness, understanding, and empathy. This includes ensuring access to mental health resources, encouraging open conversations about mental health, and leading by example.

As we navigate current societal challenges, it’s vital that healthcare leaders prioritize the mental well-being of those who dedicate their lives to caring for others. By doing so, we can create a healthier, happier, and more resilient workforce.


Mental Health America:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

League of Minnesota Cities:

SCA Health:

Premise Health:

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