Questions to ask future employers to understand their views on employee’s mental health

The mental health stigma in the workplace needs to be addressed early and often. Here are 5 tips to understand if a company has the right offerings for you, or will ultimately just cause you more stress.

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Even while living through a pandemic that had a widespread negative impact on Americans’ mental health and well-being, there’s still stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace. In fact, fewer than half of workers feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their managers, according to a 2020 survey from Maestro Health. 

But while it may feel taboo to discuss your depression or anxiety with your boss, some companies have made great strides in shifting to a culture of communication and support for employees. Companies like Starbucks and Bank of America have rolled out free mental health sessions for employees and access to mindfulness resources. And now that job openings have reached an all-time high, job seekers have the opportunity to evaluate potential companies for the level of mental health support they provide. 

Here are four ways to bring up mental health in your next interview so you can get a clear picture of the company culture. 

Know what’s appropriate and legal to discuss

It can be difficult to know how much to reveal if you struggle with mental illness. While it’s illegal for an employer to deny you a job because you have a mental health condition, you’re also not legally required to share your diagnosis during a job interview unless you are asking for a reasonable accommodation, like an altered break schedule or quiet workspace, to help you perform your job duties. 

Kim LaMontagne, author, international speaker and teacher and state trainer with the National Alliance on Mental Health, says you shouldn’t reveal your diagnosis at the beginning of the interview process. You should feel out the conversation and make sure the company is a good fit for you first.

Instead, focus the conversation on the employer’s views about mental health. LaMontagne says it’s okay to ask, “What is your commitment to the health and mental well-being of your employees, and how do you support your employees in that way?” Since you’ll be spending a significant amount of your time in the workplace, it’s a fair question to ask, and your potential employer should have an answer. 

Even if you need to ask for a reasonable accommodation to be able to perform your job, you may choose to wait until you’ve received an offer — you’re legally allowed to ask at any time

Verify the organization’s commitment to mental health

After asking about an organization’s commitment to mental health, LaMontagne suggests getting a little more detail from your potential employer. Try asking the following questions:

  • “Is there anything built into the policies and procedures to support mental health and well-being?” 
  • “Are there any types of groups within the organization? Is there a peer support network?”
  • “Is mental health and well-being talked about openly at your organization, or is there still a culture of fear?”
  • “What happens if an employee does go out on a leave that is associated with behavioral health or mental health? How do you reintegrate that employee into the workplace? Is there a mental health reintegration and physical health reintegration program?”
  • “Are your leaders trained? Do they know all the resources to help support an employee who could be in distress? What are some of the resources that you’re offering?”

Ask directly about mental health benefits

LaMontagne says an employer could offer great health insurance benefits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your plan will cover mental health services. You should ask not only about the cost of health insurance, which averages $495 a month, but also about what’s covered under the plan. In addition, be aware of the range of other benefits employers can provide to support employee well-being, and ask the following questions:

  • Do you have an employee assistance program, and what does that look like? 
  • Do you offer telehealth benefits for mental health?
  • Do you have a wellness program, and is it accessible? How many people are using it?
  • Do you offer additional mental health days beyond vacation and sick time?

Ask for examples of how mental health policies look in practice 

It can be difficult to know if a company’s policies are reflected in the culture of the organization. But LaMontagne says a good way to assess how mental health benefits will look in practice is to ask for past examples. You might ask, “What have you done in the past for other employees that have allowed folks with invisible disabilities to be able to thrive?” Or you might say, “I would love for you to share some examples of how your leadership team stepped up or addressed a situation.” 

When asking for specific examples, one test might be to assess how the company was proactive in supporting employee mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. A recent survey found that 55% of respondents felt the coronavirus pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health, yet 59% weren’t sure how to get care from home. 

You might ask the company: How have you been supporting the mental well-being of your employees through the coronavirus crisis? How do you communicate what resources are available so that employees know where to turn for help? LaMontagne says, “If they have problems being able to come up with examples, that’s a red flag.”

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