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Why It Is Important to Promote Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

Published May 10, 2021 (last updated May 24, 2022) - NZ Operations Manager
mentally happy employee

A study by the Health Promotion Agency in 2018 found that 30% of adults in New Zealand experience mental distress in 2016.

Given that work is one of the biggest stressors, and takes up most of working an Kiwi’s week, employers can make a major impact on the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.

One of the easiest ways employers can improve mental health outcomes is to promote awareness and acceptance of mental health in their workplaces.

Mental Health Awareness Week

Every year, a week in September or October serves as Mental Health Awareness Week. This is an important time for the New Zealand community to come together and raise awareness of mental health.

It is an initiative by Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand that seeks to educate New Zealanders on issues concerning mental health, thereby eliminating stigma and encouraging a non-judgemental and positive discussion on the topic.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is the general emotional and cognitive wellbeing of a person; how they think, feel, behave and interact with others.

Mental health problems or illnesses can range from a temporary concern to an ongoing condition; often, people may not react well to the ongoing stresses of life.

On the other hand, some employees may be suffering from an ongoing mental illness or be more perceptible to poor mental health.

Mental health problems, illnesses and outcomes should be considered in the same way physical health problems, illnesses and outcomes are considered. For example, if an employee works in the sun without protection, then they are more likely to get sunburnt (problem) and this may lead to skin cancer (illness). If an employee witnesses a workplace accident, they may – obviously – be emotionally affected; if left untreated, their experience may affect their long-term mental health.

The statistic mentioned at the beginning of this article alone indicates that far from being rare, mental health illnesses are quite common. It naturally follows that employers should place mental health towards the top of their workplace health and safety concerns.

Why Is Promoting Mental Health Important In The Workplace?

1.   Awareness Reduces Mental Health Stigmatization

Mental health has traditionally been perceived as a negative thing. That is, someone who has depression, anxiety, stress has a stigma attached to them.

This stigma can lead to those suffering from mental health issues having their concerns not acknowledged or even dismissed.

As an employer, encouraging awareness of mental health issues can assist any employees who may be suffering from mental health illnesses. Encouraging awareness of mental health can be as simple as communicating to your staff that you acknowledge the existence and commonality of mental health issues and will listen to any staff who would like to discuss their mental wellbeing in the workplace.

2.   It Improves Employee Productivity and Company Performance

When someone exercises and keeps a good diet, they will naturally feel more energised and will likely to be more productive at work. Similarly, an employee who is mentally healthy will likely be more productive at work.

Poor mental health may also affect employee’s performance, decision making, workflow, and relationships at work, seriously impacting their work life. Absenteeism may also be caused by mental wellbeing.

3.   It Helps Employees to be Proactive with Their Mental Health

Promoting mental health awareness can encourage your employees to be more proactive in dealing with their mental health. This includes helping them to recognise and acknowledge the signs of low mental health, which will assist them to take actions or seek help to improve their mental health.

How Do You Promote Mental Health Awareness?

Here are a few tips for promoting mental health in the workplace.

1.   Don’t Treat Mental Health as a Taboo Topic

Speak openly about the topic with your employees. If you want, and if you have one, you can also tell your story with your employees

2.   Add Signs and Resources Around the Workplace

Something as simple as posting signs and providing resources (such as brochures, phone numbers for services, etc) about mental health, and how your business is willing to support employees can make a vast improvement.

You find signs and resources to help you improve mental health in the workplace in BrightSafe‘s library of resources for employers.

3.   Be Attentive and Be There When Needed

If you notice an employee behaving uncharacteristically, don’t be quick to punish them. Always find time to talk to them, find out what is impacting their current behaviours at work and ask them if they need any support from you as their employer.

4.   Educate and Train Staff

Another option is to educate and train staff about mental health. For instance, you could set up training with your managers to help them better identify and deal with mental health issues in your workforce.

5.   Implement a Mental Health Policy

A solid, comprehensive and responsive mental health policy is an essential document in identifying mental health risks, properly supporting those who may be suffering and protecting your business with the right documentation.

Download a free mental health policy here.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

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Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small- and medium-businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why Is It Important To Raise Awareness About Depression?

    It is important to raise awareness about depression as it can help remove the stigma surrounding the illness. Removing the stigma may lead to improved mental health outcomes: for example, your employees may become more proactive in dealing with any symptoms of depression.

  • When is Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand?

    Mental Health Awareness Week occurs in September or October, every year. The exact week changes year on year.

  • How Can I Raise Awareness for Mental Health in The Workplace?

    You can raise awareness of mental health in a few ways. For instance, you can provide a mental health policy, educate and train your staff on the topic; and provide signs and resources that encourage your employees to keep abreast of their own mental wellbeing.

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