Mental Health in the Workplace

Posted by Tasneem Panchbhaya

“Never give up on someone with a mental illness. When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We’, illness becomes wellness.” – Shannon L. Alder

We had a great webinar in May for mental health awareness week. I sat down with Optimity’s CEO, Jane Wang, to discuss mental health in the workplace and how to foster a positive work environment.  You can watch the full webinar here. Here are a few key takeaway points from the webinar:  
Over recent years we’ve taken great leaps with mental health as it slowly becomes destigmatized. However, this is not the case for many working professionals, as it is estimated that over 1.3 million workers suffer from mental health conditions. That’s one too many! Like most chronic illness, there is much that can be done to prevent mental health.
Before diving in deeper into preventative steps for mental health, let talk about the basics. Quite frequently, the terms “mental health” and “mental illness” are used interchangeably. What is mental health? Well, mental health is our mental well-being, emotions, thoughts and feelings. It determines our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, how we perceive our social connections and the world around us. However, mental illness is is an illness that affects the way people think, feel, behave, or interact with others. There are many different mental illnesses that show different symptom, impacting peoples’ lives in different ways.

Although you may not face any mental illnesses, you may struggle with mental health issues, just as you struggle with your physical well-being from time to time. It’s important to remember: “There is no health without mental health.”

It is important to address mental health, especially in the workplace. As an employer it is your duty to foster a health and positive environment. In turn, your employees work productivity will increase and not only create a sense of wellbeing and accomplishment, but also help the company’s profitability.

As a whole, mental illness can have a significant impact on employers in the form of loss of productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, disability and medical costs. The numbers are staggering: Mental health issues cost employers an estimated $50 billion a year. Half a million employees miss work because of mental health each week and one in three workplace disability claims  are related to mental health.


Despite the increase in mental health awareness and popular movements like Bell Let’s Talk, there are still many people suffering in silence in the workplace. As employers, when you contextualize these numbers and the potential impact it can have on your business, you will realize that some serious action needs to be taken to keep these costs at bay.

As we all know the benefits of promoting physical health in the workplace, offering support for mental health is just as important. Imagine the outcomes it can have on your employees but also the employers! It will enhance any existing organization culture you’ve created in the organization and increase a deeper understanding of mental health issues into the workplace.

Mental health is a crucial concern for workplace health promotion. At Optimity, we have helped many organizations tune into the importance of mental health and make adjustments to their workplace wellness approach, executing initiatives that will help support their employees.

The following are our top 3 tips on helping your employees cope and prevent mental health in the workplace:


Positive Thinking

Positive thinking doesn’t mean being happy about every situation that happens. It is unrealistic to constantly view unfavourable events such as the loss of a loved one or an argument in a positive light. When someone says to have a positive mindset, they are in reality suggesting healthy thinking: Viewing the world around you in a balanced manner and not with coloured lenses.

Why is positive, or “healthy” thinking so important for your mental health? Your interpretation of a situation can be distorted as you focus solely on the negative aspects of a situation, which ends up making you feel worse. This unbalanced thinking is known as “thinking traps”.

Pensive businessman calculates taxes

What are common thinking traps?

Everyone falls into unbalanced thinking traps from time to time. You’re most likely to distort your interpretation of things when you feel sad, angry, anxious, depressed or stressed. You’re also more vulnerable to thinking traps when you’re not taking good care of yourself, like when you’re not eating or sleeping well. See if you can recognize your own thinking traps in the list below:


Thinking that a negative situation is part of a constant cycle of bad things that happen. People who overgeneralize often use words like “always” or “never.”

So for example, Saying “I wanted to go for a hike, but now it’s raining. This always happens to me! I never get to do fun things!”

Fortune Telling:

Predicting that something bad will happen, without any evidence.

“I worked hard on this project but I know my boss will just hate it.”

Black and White Thinking:

Seeing things as only right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or terrible.

Those who look at situations as blacker white will always see minor issues as a huge failure.

I wanted to eat healthier, but I just had a piece of cake. I’m such a failure, I might as well eat the whole cake now.

A strategy to help separate your thoughts from the actual events is asking yourself questions when faced with a difficult situation.

  • What is the situation?
  • What are my thoughts?
  • What are my emotions?
  • What are my behaviours?

The best way to break a thinking trap is to look at your thoughts like a scientist and consider the hard facts. Use the evidence you’ve collected to challenge your thinking traps. Here is one example:

Examine the evidence: Try to find evidence against the thought. If you make a mistake at work, you might automatically think, “I can’t do anything right! I must be a terrible employee!” When this thought comes up, you might challenge it by asking, “Is there any evidence to support this though? Is there any evidence to disprove this thought?” You might quickly realize that your boss has complimented your work recently, which doesn’t support the idea that you’re a bad employee.

Double-standards: Ask yourself, “Would I judge other people if they did the same thing? Am I being harder on myself than I am on other people?” This is a great method for challenging thinking traps that involve harsh self-criticism.

Social Support

Social support play a strong role in mental health. Those with a weaker social support system tend to report higher levels of depression. The lack of support can make an individual more vulnerable to the onset of mental health issues.

It is best to maintain positive relationships with those around you, like your family, friends, and especially your colleagues. Avoid being alone if you are experiencing a difficult situation such as bereavement or a job loss. Ask for support, as colleagues can be great pillars of support, especially when you spend over 40 hours at work with these same people. Other ways of maintaining your social circle is to engage in leisure activities that you can enjoy and find time to indulge in them. We all need people we can depend on during both the good times and the bad. Maintaining a healthy social support network is hard work and something that requires ongoing effort over time.
Physical Health

Research has pointed to the importance of physical health for maintaining positive mental health. Engaging in a healthy diet, exercise, and adequate sleep is essential for optimal health, including mental health.


Exercise helps release endorphins, which is the “feel good” hormone. Even something as simple as a brisk 5 minute walk to climbing the stairs at work will help increase mental alertness and improve mood.


A nutritious diet is crucial to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. What does a healthy diet look like? It is one that includes the right amounts of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and essential vitamins and minerals. A healthy diet is a great way to maintain your mental health.


Sleep more, yes that’s right, sleep! Lack of sleep impacts both your physical and mental health. A lack of sleep can make it difficult to regulate emotions. One strategy to increasing sleep time is to get into bed at least 10 minutes early, and gradually work your way up until you can reach an optimal amount of sleep.

Mental health is one of the fastest growing issues in workplace health promotion. This year we saw more organizations consistently making adjustments to their thinking and execution in supporting their employees. If you want to learn more about implementing a successful wellness program that supports your employees mental wellbeing, be sure to check out the full webinar where we go into full depth on the importance of mental health in the workplace.
If you want to learn more about implementing a comprehensive wellness program that benefits your employees mental health, making them healthier and happy, leading to better gains for your organization, please reach out to us at

Or sign up here to start leading a healthier life and claiming rewards!

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