How to Discuss Mental Health with Team Members

⚠️ Mental well-being does NOT equal mental health.

And that belief is contributing to the problem. Organizations offer their employees a meditation app or exercise program, assuming it solves anxiety, depression, or burnout. The result is that employees don’t feel their mental health is being taken seriously, while leadership is left confused and frustrated that the wellness program was a wasted investment. 

Without meaning to, this can create a cultural divide within the organization, leaving its people feeling disconnected from their leadership.

Dr. Romie Real Talk:
“Bottom line – an app that helps you journal gratitude, eat gluten-free, or meditate is NOT the answer to diagnosing and treating PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders.”

Dr. Romie

There’s NOT an app for that. 

In order to improve the well-being of your team and organization, you need to support BOTH their mental health and their mental well-being. That starts by understanding how they differ.

I want to share the difference between:

  • Mental well-being (how you manage stress and your state of happiness),
  • Mental health (how you cope with psychological and emotional stressors) and
  • Mental disease (depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc). It’s vital to understand the distinctions so you can respond appropriately to the mental health needs of your colleagues.

Mental well-being refers to our ability to live in a way that is as closely aligned with our goals, dreams, and desires as possible. It’s about optimizing our lives, and it is impossible without first achieving good mental health.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Fostering your mental well-being:
means that your mind is functioning and that you can function in your life positively.

Signs of mental wellness:

  • Have a greater awareness of your abilities and positive qualities
  • Better handle the stressful or uncertain circumstances
  • Be more productive
  • Have a more active role in any community you are a part of

Mental wellness is the result of you investing in your mental health. It takes work to get to and sustain. Some of the ways you can get to mental wellness are:

  • Get to know yourself
  • Understand what you can change and what you cannot change
  • Understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and build from there
  • Develop awareness of your feelings and needs

Mental health is a disease process that affects the functioning of your mind, and you can have related physical symptoms. Your life (personal and professional) impacts your mental health. Signs of mental health disease and/or symptoms can include:

  • Feeling worried and spinning with negative thoughts that are out of control
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Change in appetite
  • Loss of hope

These are just a few of the many symptoms that warrant you speaking to a health care professional (doctor, therapist) rather than searching for an answer on TikTok.

Mental Health in the Workplace

Unlike many physical ailments, mental health symptoms aren’t always easy to spot in the workplace – until they are.

If you’ve ever had a colleague at work muster up the courage to share a mental health crisis with you, it may have caught you off guard. You’re not alone if this interaction made you feel uncomfortable. Most people feel inadequate to help and unsure of how to respond in these situations.

When an employee or colleague discloses they’re struggling, be aware that one of two things is happening:

  1. Your colleague really trusts you to share something this intimate
  2. This colleague is desperate. They are deep in crisis and are coming to you as a last resort

The workplace is not immune to the current mental health crisis. A 2022 Gallup poll revealed that 50% of the American workforce is experiencing burnout, anxiety, or depression due to their job.

How would you react to a colleague who shared they were struggling at work due to severe anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or panic attacks? 

What if it was something more subtle — they mention they haven’t been sleeping well or they’ve lost their ability to concentrate on their work?

You might be inclined to share about your own family member who faced a similar (or not so similar) struggle or recommend a supplement or meditation app. While these responses are well-meaning, there is a better way.

Here’s what I tell my colleagues at Evolution Hospitality, where I serve as Chief Wellness Officer. When a team member is opening up to you, try this:

  • First, take a moment to pause and recenter yourself. Change the station of your brain to calm..
  • Listen with your heart and not your operational mind.
  • Thank your colleague for opening up to you.
  • Then ask, “How can I help?”

You don’t need to have all the answers, you just need to listen. As the mental health crisis heightens, you can prepare for situations like this by:

  • Knowing your policies. Familiarize yourself with company policy concerning employees who may be at risk of self-harm or harm to others
  • Building a bridge. Instead of sending a colleague to HR to find EAP or your mental health services on their own, research to find them yourself and help the employee/colleague in crisis connect with them
  • Following up. They trusted you with this sensitive information, so continue to check in with the colleague to see if there are other ways you can assist them in getting support or treatment

As a board-certified physician and Chief Wellness Officer for a large organization, I understand the complexities of caring for the people in an organization while making sure the business succeeds.

Let’s brainSHIFT,
Dr. Romie

PS: May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the perfect time to prepare your leadership team to manage the mental health crisis in the workplace. In our mental health workshops, I share about the steps covered in this newsletter and more.

Reach out at to learn more about booking one of my virtual and in-person programs, and I’ll personally reply to your email.

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