Mental Health in the Workplace – Caring for Others and Caring for Self


Three years ago, my good friend took his own life.

I remember that morning like it was yesterday. The feelings of disbelief, sadness, anger, and loss. I also had a feeling of helplessness. As an HR professional, I am very good at helping others to cope with loss, stress and pain, but I had never been in a position to help myself. And for the first time in my career, I did what I recommend countless times per week. I called my company's EAP.

May is Mental Health Month. I have written about this for the past few years and I will continue to write about it.

Every day, we are the sounding board for other people's problems. Whether it's about an underperforming employee or a conflict between team members. We listen to our employee's life issues and their daily struggles in and out of the workplace. We offer solutions to help them cope. We provide resources to make their day just a little better.

And then we have our own struggles and personal issues. We are battling to help our aging parents find the proper care. We deal with our sick pets, our kids. Our own personal finances, relationships, and failures. In many of these cases, we forget to take care of ourselves. We forget the advice we give our employees each and every day. We don't use the resources provided to us by our employees. Instead, we self-medicate. We joke about the latest anti-anxiety medication as the only way to get by. We don't reach out for help

There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about my friend. His family is constantly on my mind. I stare at the text message exchange we had hours before. We were going back and forth about our time together at an event a year prior. None of it makes sense.

I carry a lot of guilt about this. Were there any signs? Did I miss them? Part of my job is to pick up on them and offer assistance. To be that support. How in the hell did I miss this?

The answer is we can't catch all of the signs. That is way too much of a burden to bare. Our jobs as HR professionals are not to be psychiatrists and psychologists. We must be empathetic and compassionate and make sure our employees know of all the resources available to them to deal with all stresses life brings. We are flexible in archaic policies on bereavement and leaves of absence. We behave like human beings.

As May closes out, I ask that you explore and understand all of the resources available to you to help with stress. Know them. Recommend them often. Use them for yourself, even if you don’t think you need it. If your employer does not offer an EAP, there are great resources through SHRM and wonderful organizations like Didi Hirsch.


Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 takes place from 16-22 May, with the theme of relationships.  


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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