Smart companies know promoting mental health inclusion is mission-critical for a healthy, productive workplace. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and millions of people in the U.S. are affected by mental illness each year. Providing effective mental health support for employees, especially those from high-risk, underrepresented groups, benefits everyone.

Experiencing a mental illness can make everyday life and work difficult. These challenges ripple out through our families, our communities, and our world. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 22.8% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2021. That’s one in five of your employees with first-hand experience with mental health issues and even more who face challenges within their families.

Promoting inclusive support has a powerful impact. Leaders and people teams who invest in the emotional well-being of their employees foster positive workplace cultures that attract and retain top talent. Organizations thrive when people feel seen, heard, and safe.

Here’s what we’ll cover: 

Emotional well-being, belonging, and DEI

Employee emotional well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are inextricably tied. Everyday people from diverse backgrounds face a lack of representation, microaggressions, and unconscious bias. Safety and belonging are essential to workplace inclusion.

In the workplace, exclusion impacts emotional well-being and psychological safety, especially for high-risk groups.

Racial battle fatigue” is the trauma that results from regular exposure to prejudiced information and invalidation of a person’s experiences. Any place can become hostile and inhospitable enough for people to avoid it altogether. See the recent NAACP Board of Directors’ formal travel advisory for the state of Florida.

Read More: Trauma-Informed Management

Many of us spend more time at work than with the people we love. Safety and belonging are essential to workplace inclusion. A culture of well-being extends from the most vulnerable up the hierarchy of a community, making all members safer and healthier.

Corporate leaders shaping the modern workplace, like Pricewaterhouse Coopers, recognize support of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ inclusion is crucial to well-being, safety, and quality of life.


What is mental health inclusion?

Mental health inclusion embraces every person, regardless of identity, ability, background, or beliefs. As a care model, it fosters a sense of belonging and equity. All humans are respected, celebrated, and treated with dignity. Equal access to well-being support is guaranteed, and barriers that prevent individuals from fully participating are removed.

According to recent studies:

  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults are twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a psychological condition.
  • Transgender individuals are nearly four times as likely than cisgender individuals (people whose gender identify corresponds with their birth sex) to experience a psychological condition.
  • Transgender adults are nearly nine times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.

Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year, and depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. People living with anxiety and depression symptoms are an essential part of the modern workforce. Ignoring or marginalizing their struggles has a cost.

Madison Butler is a powerhouse advocate for mental health and removing the stigma around trauma. “Our struggles are shared, and we should be able to speak about them freely. Change only comes when we can call out the problem. Change comes from being uncomfortable.”


How to promote mental health inclusion at work

Foster a culture of inclusion by actively combatting stigmas around mental health challenges and providing the tools people need to seek help. Create an ecosystem that prioritizes total well-being and mental health by elevating awareness, prioritizing inclusive language, increasing access to culturally competent care, and empowering personal choice.

Elevate awareness and combat stigmas

By openly discussing mental health concerns and addressing overall wellness, organizations can increase awareness, educate employees, and destigmatize mental health challenges. This fosters empathy, understanding, and acceptance across your workforce. Understanding who your people are and how they self-identify increases engagement and helps employees from all backgrounds feel recognized and valued.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness launched a #morethanenough campaign in 2023. This effort has been described as an opportunity “to come together and remember the inherent value we each hold — no matter our diagnosis, appearance, socioeconomic status, background or ability…If all you did was wake up today, that’s more than enough.”

Watch: Delivering Inclusive Values with Proofpoint, The Mom Project, and Betterworks

Promote inclusive language

Words have power. By using appropriate and respectful language, companies normalize discussing identity and mental health issues openly. Inclusive language sends a message that being human and seeking help is acceptable and encouraged so that your people are more likely to access resources and get the support that they need.

Companies that promote inclusive language, microvalidations (a counterstrategy to microaggressions), and correct pronouns demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Actively work to use language that removes stigmas and promotes an inclusive workplace culture.

Advocate for culturally competent care

Take a close look at your company’s employee benefits strategy and the cultural competency of healthcare organizations and providers. The ability to understand and appreciate individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds is essential to effective mental health care.

In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that close to 70% of U.S. social workers and 88% of mental health counselors were white. Professionals from diverse backgrounds empathize and support employees with related experiences.

In addition to representation, resources like this searchable database for trans people to find culturally competent, quality healthcare providers should be accessible to your people.

Empower choice

Having options helps your people feel empowered to make their own decisions about mental health care. Lifestyle Spending Accounts allow for healthcare reimbursements as a way to promote the total well-being of all employees. And mental wellness benefits can be tailored to meet unique individual needs.

Telehealth options can bolster the psychological health support and total well-being of your people. Thanks to technology, access to mental health services for employees from diverse backgrounds is available remotely regardless of geography or other logistical barriers.

Having options helps your people feel empowered to make their own decisions about mental health care.

When direct care is necessary but not available locally to your employees, many large U.S. companies support their employees’ well-being by covering travel-related expenses related to health care, including reproductive health services and gender-affirming care.


Tips for creating a more inclusive workplace

Empower your people to make work work for them. HR leaders and people teams know that supporting psychological safety and neurodiversity in the workplace are mission-critical for healthy, productive organizations. Level up your inclusion efforts by increasing flexible work options, building workplace community, and supporting generational differences.

Increase flexibility

Flexible work hours and environments create a more human and honest work-life integration. A healthy work-life blend helps your people adapt their professional work to their mental health needs. When employees feel understood, trusted, and valued, they’re happier, more productive workers.

Build community

Employee Resource Groups build a strong sense of community and connect your people to professional resources, support systems, and networks. Employees share the things that make them special, along with the things they love. And this sense of workplace community needs to be promoted, embraced, and participated in by the highest levels of leadership, to celebrate what makes your people unique.

Support the next generation

Just like they support working parents, companies must acknowledge and support the needs of employees’ children.

Just this week, the United States surgeon general issued an advisory about the risks of social media: “There are ample indicators that social media can have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”

Making sure your employees are aware of resources relevant to the experiences of their children is essential. The Wait Until 8th initiative empowers parents to rally together to delay smartphones at least until 8th grade. The Trevor Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Whatever their needs, your people deserve to know you’ll support them and the people they love.

Read More: Creating Solidarity and Belonging, with Companies like Micron and RiteAid


Mental health inclusion benefits everyone

Supporting employee mental health is essential to create an inclusive work environment for all. It fosters an empathetic, supportive work environment where individuals feel valued, respected, and safe to share their experiences. A positive atmosphere enhances teamwork, collaboration, and overall employee morale.

When all employees’ health needs are addressed, they can fully engage and contribute their skills and talents. By providing necessary support and access to inclusive health systems, organizations enable employees to perform at their best, boosting productivity and efficiency across the board.

Companies that prioritize mental health inclusion demonstrate their commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive work environment. This approach attracts top talent, including individuals from underrepresented and marginalized communities, who will always choose organizations that prioritize their total well-being.

With Espresa, companies can Power Great Workplaces® with our modularly designed Lifestyle Spending Account platform built to engage the entire HR culture ecosystem.

Ready to learn more about Espresa? Reach out to our team for a free demo!


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