There's an elephant in your office

There's an elephant in your office

A Q&A with Andrea Ecret - Brand Manager

A quarter of the U.S adult population, 64. 6 million people, live with a mental health disorder and 100% of the population has mental health. Think about that, this topic impacts everyone, everywhere, at some point in their life. Yet, those that are suffering feel like they are alone. 

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ashely Sides Johnson and Andrea Sides Herron, authors of, "There's an Elephant in Your Office: Practical Tips to Successfully Identify and Support Mental and Emotional Health in the Workplace."

I asked the following questions about making changes to organizations so employees feel comfortable with initiating the conversation on mental health. 

What inspired you to write your book, "Theres An Elephant In Your Office?"

I, Ashley, live with a mental health disorder. Several years ago, I had a particularly rough episode and found myself "in trouble" at work. After conversations with my manager, director, and human resources, I realized that I had no idea what my rights were - as a person or an employee. So, I called my sister for advice. Despite advanced degrees and HR certifications, she did not have answers to my questions. 

As we researched and looked for information, we agreed that there had to be a better way to learn about mental health in the workplace. So, we made one. 

What advice do you give organizations that are first asking these questions?

Our advice is to lower your expectations. You can't "solve" mental health, but you can make a lot of progress toward addressing it. Start with baby steps like auditing your existing resources. Do you offer health insurance and paid time off? Great! Those two programs form a strong foundation for supporting employee health. Next step, figure out if anyone uses the resources you provide. 

How does an organization or another employee recognize someone that needs help with mental illness?

Someone struggling with their mental health doesn't have a neon sign over their head that flashes, "I need help." So, pay attention to your people and trust your inner voice. Most of us spend enough time with our co-workers that we can tell if they are having a bad day or a really tough week. If you notice a shift in how they look or act and it lasts longer than two weeks, checking in on them is a good idea. 

There are no magic words to start the conversation, just be normal and speak in your normal demeanor and just ask, "What do you need from me?"

What types of accommodations in the workplace help individuals with mental health disorders?

Difficulty concentrating and irritability are two common symptoms of several mental health disorders. Accommodations like moving a person's workstation away from the break room or conference room can reduce distractions and boost productivity. Access to an outside space or quiet part of the office provides a brief escape and the opportunity to process anger frustration without audience. And don't forget the power of noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes the world is just too loud. 

How do we change the stigma on mental health and begin to educate others?

Lead by example and use your words. Talking about feelings, stress, or struggling to get it together normalizes discussions of mental health. 

When senior managers actively focus on health, employees become more comfortable devoting time to their own health.

Also, do your research within the organizations. What tools already exist through your health benefits? An EAP, Employee Assistance Program, provides access to counselors, therapists, addiction treatment resources, and more. 

Education on these tools that are already available is free and can help someone that may be silently reaching out for assistance. 

In what ways do you recommend maintaining mental health?

Last year for Mental Health Month, we asked all our friends and social media followers to tell us one way "you maintain mental health." The answers included everything from prioritizing sleep to practicing gratitude, doing yoga, cooking, celebrating small victories, cranking up the music on a car ride, laughing, taking a break from social media, and making the bed each day. Coping mechanisms are as unique as the people using them. We recommend finding what brings you joy or relief and do that. 

We believe employees allowed, even encouraged, to meet their basic emotional needs will be more productive, incur fewer absences, and feel greater loyalty to the company.
- Andrea Sides Herron + Ashley Sides Johnson

Opening my eyes to this subject has helped me understand more about how I can recognize situations in my life and especially in the workplace. I have a deep compassion for people, maybe all it takes is a simple high five, a smile, or just asking the question, "Hey, you need a friend to listen?"


To learn more, check out Ashley and Andrea's book "There's an Elephant in Your Office"

Or, listen to Andrea's guest appearance on the Imagine a Place podcast here

Andrea Herron, Molly Prior, and Ashley Johnson podcast