More people are starting to speak out at work about the importance of mental health.

Among them, according to The Wall Street Journal, are members of a new organization called the Stability Network, which is dedicated to promoting professional support for Americans who suffer from mental illness. Another is entrepreneur Indigo Triplett, founder of Careers in Transition, a human resources consulting firm, and an Inc.com columnist who writes about mental health at work

Many functioning professionals are afraid to admit to a disability for fear of discrimination. They may struggle to find a workplace where their diagnosis does not define them. They often don't disclose it until they are comfortable that the work environment will be supportive. 

Employers are legally required to make accommodations after an employee discloses a mental or physical disability. Mental health advocates are seeking to encourage employers to go beyond mere accommodation and build in proactive, purposefully inclusive workplace policies and procedures.

Here are some best practices for business owners and managers seeking to cultivate a more inclusive and supportive work environment for mental health.

1. Avoid stigmatized language.

Pay attention to how workers talk about individuals with mental illnesses, especially when the topic is in the news. “If someone had a heart attack or a stroke, we wouldn’t stand around the water cooler and make disparaging remarks about them," says Triplett.

Think of mental illness the same way you would a treatable cancer. It’s serious, but there are steps both you and the employee can take to ease the treatment process. 

2. Focus on function.

Rather than approaching an employee’s mental health as a problem that needs to be fixed right away, take the time to sit down with the person and figure out what he or she needs to get the job done, says Donna Hardaker, director of Wellness Works, an organization offering workplace training for more inclusive policies.

Instead of asking medical questions--about symptoms, diagnosis, medication, or side effects--focus on a discussion around functionality, she suggests. If an employee feels groggy in the mornings and more productive in the afternoon, structure the workload around that schedule.

3. Offer emotional support.

Emotional support is extremely important for maintaining or improving mental health. Make sure the person is being included and accepted. Isolation can be a risk factor for developing or triggering symptoms.

One place to start is with training managers in emotional intelligence.

“Our world is built for a certain type of person,” Hardaker says. “It’s time we recognize it’s not about retrofitting the workplace. It’s about making it more inclusive and accessible for everyone.”

Published on: Aug 6, 2015