Make it OK to talk about mental illness in the workplace


May is Mental Health Awareness month and an important time to reflect on the critical role that employers play in the wellbeing of Iowans. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 Iowans suffer from some kind of mental illness in a given year. Left untreated, the result can be devastating to the individual’s health and the overall productivity of the organization. This can happen when people feel too ashamed to admit they are struggling and seek help.

Now, more than ever before, many of us could be feeling increased anxiety, stress or loneliness following a year of living with the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is OK to not be OK right now. Mental Health Awareness Month serves as a great opportunity for our community to begin eliminating stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness – beginning with employers. By breaking down the stigma around mental illness, we can support those who are struggling to find the resources and treatment they deserve.  

I encourage all leaders to “make it OK” to talk about mental illness in their organization. Leading a culture that celebrates courage and vulnerability will provide needed safety and support for individual staff members and will ultimately pay dividends to the bottom line.

photo of karl kurtKarl Kurt is the Assistant Chief Administrator/Director of Human Resources at Central Rivers Area Educational Agency (AEA). He can be reached at kkurt@centralriversaea.org. Central Rivers AEA serves over 62,000 students in 18 counties of Iowa.