how should I handle joking around during mental health discussions with my team?

A reader writes:

Over the last few years, our company has promoted safety as an agenda topic to start every meeting. Over the last year, mental health has been added as a focus. We have many resources available to employees and have created a series of “awareness” presentations with topics including suicide, depression, stress, meditation, etc.

Typically, my weekly staff meeting begins with a safety discussion and often a mental health topic. We are working from home, so the staff meeting is also an opportunity for everyone to socialize and I have a boisterous team (they were pretty informal when we were face-to-face also).

As part of our leadership feedback (anonymous), a team member raised a concern that there is joking when the mental health topic is brought up and that I need to stop that behavior. I totally agree and feel awful that anyone on my team has felt that I allowed this behavior. I honestly don’t remember any joking – but there is often banter, so I believe it’s happened.

What’s the best way to address this? Obviously, I need to speak up in the moment if it happens again. Should I also preemptively make a statement about this being a serious topic? The discussions are already awkward for me because I don’t feel like I’m qualified to answer any questions other than what resources are available. I encourage dialogue – but meaningful participation on this topic is limited. I want to ensure no one on my team feels marginalized, but I don’t want to scold the team into staying quiet throughout the meeting.

I wrote back and asked, “What do these mental health discussions consist of? My initial reaction is that it’s really not good to ask managers without a background in mental health issues to lead those talks, but I might be misunderstanding what they entail.”

As an example, the letter-writer forwarded me the slides she was supposed to show on suicide prevention (covering why it’s important to talk about, risk factors, warning signs, and steps to take if you’re concerned someone is thinking about suicide) and explained:

I’m supposed to go over the information and encourage comments / discussion. For example, we had a concern about an employee who may self harm – we ended up involving medical and he was transported to a hospital for help. Some managers bring up that incident and talk about how it was handled and how we need awareness and then encourage discussion about that scenario. Some people have talked about family or friends who were affected by suicide. We are encouraged to share and start a discussion – but it’s not required.

For me, even reading through the slides can be difficult. I sometimes get a bit choked up and am trying not to let my voice break as I review some of the scenarios (like asking someone if they are suicidal or want to kill themselves). I’m okay in a real situation – but for some reason get emotional when discussing.

So …. it is really problematic to ask managers without expertise in mental health to lead these conversations.

I know that’s not what you’re asking about, but I don’t think we can talk about this without talking about that piece of it!

You’re not a trained mental health facilitator. As far as I know, you and your fellow managers have no background in mental health at all (partly evidenced by their sharing info about a specific employee’s mental health crisis — ?!?!). It’s irresponsible of your company to ask you and other managers to lead these highly sensitive, highly consequential discussions. It’s great that they want to raise awareness about mental health, but this is not the way to do it. There is strong potential for an untrained manager to do more harm than good, regardless of the company’s intentions.

Can you push back on how this is being implemented? If your company wants to distribute resources on mental health, great. If they want to offer an EAP and ensure your health insurance makes mental health services low-cost and accessible, even better. If they want to do things that support mental health, like offering flexibility for care-taking and plentiful paid time off and making sure the culture supports people taking it — excellent. But expecting untrained facilitators to lead discussions of serious mental health topics is not reasonable and it could make people less safe, not more safe.

If you truly have no choice, is it possible to simply distribute the slides and handouts, draw attention to the resources available for help, remind people of the work-specific ways you can support them (job accommodations for people who need them, time off, etc.), and leave it there?

If you worry jokes will happen anyway, you could start these meetings by saying something like, “I know we joke around, but this topic is a serious one and kidding about it can affect your colleagues in ways you might not anticipate, so let’s treat this with the seriousness it warrants” … but again, I really don’t think you or other managers should be leading these discussions at all.

{ 303 comments… read them below }

  1. HailRobonia*

    Ugh. Yes, mental health is important, but more and more we all see reports of companies giving it lip service and then giving links to resources, etc. instead of doing things like solving the workplace issues (overwork, having to be on-call too much, unbalanced responsibilities, etc.)

    1. balance is a joke*

      So much this. My work once had a “mental health awareness week” where they were talking about the importance of work-life balance … on the same week where I billed 80+ hours and had two different mental breakdowns in the office due to that, including a recurrence of some self-destructive behavior that I had to hide from my partner and everyone at work.

      Mental health conversations from employers who don’t actually address work-life balance – or exclude the employees they put the biggest load on – just come across terribly. They tend to aggravate my issues, and it’s not like I don’t know the resources available, I just don’t have time to use them because I’m always working (which is most of the problem to begin with!).

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes when employers who put tons of stress and create a horrible working environment point people towards mental health resources, I always think, “Don’t offer me help with the problem you are creating! Just stop creating it!”

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah my previous employer offered a yoga retreat to a project manager who was burning out. She came back all rested and relaxed, to find that her inbox had even more stuff to deal with. The rest and relaxation benefitted her for precisely half an hour.

    2. D3*

      I once witnessed an amazing thing.
      At the end of a company required training on stress management and avoiding burnout, a coworker stood up and spoke to the CEO (who had just thanked and dismissed the facilitator). She said something roughly like
      “This training has been excellent, and I have written down three things I plan to use this week. But I would also like to know what the company is doing for stress management and avoiding burnout. We can only do so much when we are expected to have a department of 10 reduced to a department of 4 with no change in the workload. Deep breathing doesn’t help when we are given unrealistic deadlines. I have no time for exercise, bubble baths or naps because the demands on me are so heavy. Family dinner time is a joke, I am lucky if I get to tuck my kids in bed most days. As employees, we can – and will – implement the things that (facilitator) taught us. But what will the company do for their part before everyone burns out and leaves?”
      You could have heard a pin drop.
      The CEO stumbled over his words saying he’d look into it and sent everyone home early.
      The freezes on hiring and raises were gone within a week. And surprisingly, coworker did NOT seem to face any repercussions. She was promoted about 6 months later.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        I quite honestly got teary when I read this! Too many companies, even when given the kind of honest, accurate feedback that your coworker gave, don’t want to own any part of this kind of stress because it will force them to spend money/change conditions/actually manage/(insert other reasonable solution here) that they don’t want to do. How incredible that your company actually took that feedback to heart and MADE CHANGES THAT ACTUALLY MADE PEOPLE’S LIVES BETTER. I’m gobsmacked in the best possible way.

        Kudos to your coworker, kudos to the company and CEO, and thank you for sharing this story!

      2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        I am honestly surprised the employee was not fired, and I’m sad at how surprised I am.

        1. starsaphire*

          Came here to say exactly this. Thank you.

          In X-job, that co-worker would have “disappeared” at 4:59 pm the next Friday and never have been mentioned again.

          1. Hemingway*

            It seems like the CEO/company really wanted to make it better. That’s great, but also, yes, can be rare.

      3. BRR*

        This is amazing! And it sums up exactly how I feel about most company attempts at employee stress management/well being/mental health. Companies avoid the core issue like being over worked or having a dysfunctional office and tell you to get a massage. Obviously the LW’s employer can’t solve the pandemic, I’m assuming that’s why mental health is now a topic for them, but support mental health by offering extra time off, make sure employees are able to use their time off, be flexible, make sure the insurance options include good mental health coverage, have an EAP etc.

      4. TootsNYC*

        this reminds me of the memo sent by my boss saying, “I know time management is stressful for us all, so during our company meeting, we’re going to have someone from Franklin Covey speak to us about it. They have a half-day version of their normal two-day seminar, and we’re going to have them present it to us in an hour.”

        I was like, That’s where my time management stress is coming from.

        1. Jeeptrixie*

          Covey! Arrgh! We had a CEO who was always bringing out the quadrants. Wasted time talking about wasting time. I don’t miss it.

    3. Yes Ma'am*

      So much this. Yoga in the break room doesn’t change the fact that people are overworked and underpaid.

    4. Momma Bear*

      This might be better handled by providing the PPTs to the employees directly, having people review them and submit a form saying they did so, as well as ensuring that people have access to the EAP and/or HR as necessary and that they also know their managers have their support. “If you have any questions about the PPT on suicide prevention or any related concerns, please reach out to me or HR directly.”

      This kind of “self-taught lesson” is common with other topics such as information security. Not only is the manger not trained in this area, but these meetings are upsetting to some of the team. Time to change the way it’s presented.

    5. Jessen*

      Also, good health insurance. Not just one that technically covers mental health, but one that has a good variety of options. If I need to see a LGBT-friendly therapist who knows how to treat adult ADHD, for example, will I be able to find one in network? If not, do you have reasonable out of network coverage? Or will I get stuck with someone who thinks anyone who isn’t monosexual is inherently unstable again, because that’s the only person I’m allowed to see who’s actually taking new patients?

      1. JustaTech*

        Yes, this!
        When I tried to find a therapist in-network a few years ago (and I was being picky) the list from the health insurance company was completely useless. Like, 3 people had moved out of state and one had died, but they were still on the list.

        I ended up using a service through my husband’s work to find someone (who was just OK, not great).

    6. Beth*

      Absolutely. This approach (forcing managers to go through prepped slides, without extra training and without any mention of actual support measures being added) reeks of lip service.

      The company wants credit for being supportive of mental health issues, but are they providing anything concrete to back that up? Flexible schedules to work around daytime appointments; easy access to trained professionals; health insurance that makes it easy and l0w-cost to access mental health care; high enough compensation that accessing necessities like food, housing, transportation, etc. isn’t a stress factor even for the lowest-paid employees; generous vacation time to prevent burnout; full enough staffing that people aren’t overworked and can reliably have a life outside of work; etc? In the context of this pandemic, are they doing everything possible to protect and support their employees (work from home where possible, seriously enforced masking and distancing policies where not, paid time off for quarantine and recovery where necessary, etc)?

      If they are providing these concrete supports and these sessions are just the less-than-ideal icing on an actually-good cake, fine. But I’d bet they’re not, and if they’re not, these sessions are going to come off as hypocritical to anyone actually struggling. OP, I agree with Alison that you should seriously push back on being required to do these sessions.

      1. OP*

        The topics are awkward and I will push back and ask for the topics to be more “sharing for awareness” and less “asking for discussion.” Regarding the support provide, I think it is excellent. My staff is fully supported to work from home, schedules are flexible for people with children in virtual school or people caring for parents or just needing a break from endless online meetings. Compensation, vacation time and health care (including mental health) coverage are all excellent. Workload is high – but weekends are protected. Several of my team have worked remotely from other states to visit family members/friends that needed help or just to have a change of scenery. We’ve allowed office equipment (monitors, chairs, etc) to be taken home. I fully believe the leadership wants to create an environment where mental health is treated no differently than physical health – I’m just not sure this particular initiative is a good idea.

        1. Student Affairs Sally*

          “I fully believe the leadership wants to create an environment where mental health is treated no differently than physical health”

          That’s a fantastic goal to have, but I don’t think this approach is an effective way to do that – in fact, it’s the opposite! When you apply the logic of these meetings to physical health issues (rather than mental health issues), the problems here become even clearer. Unless you actually work in healthcare (and probably not even then), I hope you’re not having regular meetings discussing people’s physical health/health problems. I hope you wouldn’t use an actual employee’s history with cancer or heart attacks or diabetes or WHATEVER as an example. I hope you wouldn’t lead a discussion on how it feels to have a colonoscopy, or even about things that seem more socially acceptable, like dietary choices (the post earlier today should give an idea of how fraught these discussions can be). It’s way too personal, private, and likely to make people very uncomfortable. It sounds like your company is already doing a great job of supporting mental + physical health in doing the things that are actually part of their purview – these meetings are not that, and are extremely inappropriate. Please push back on this.

          1. Self Employed*

            Excellent comment. I live in an apartment complex that is contractually obligated to provide “services” such as health information (which has been put mostly on hold for the pandemic but it’s not a loss). Half the time, it’s our bored staff member going through an oversimplified presentation and mangling anything resembling a technical term. The other half of the time, it’s a chiropractor or some other quasi-medical provider looking for an excuse to market to our elderly tenants. I am sure she could get actual medical educators from the County, a local university (we are blocks from a state university and not far from a private university), or the local hospitals, except she would actually need to make calls instead of just answering their sales emails.

        2. Just me*

          As someone with mental health issues myself – the approach your leadership is taking horrifies me. I’d feel so awkward, embarrassed and called out if I had to sit through those. Also, humor is one of my coping mechanisms, so to avoid feeling like that I’d likely be the one joking/bantering! Not because I wasn’t taking it seriously, but sometimes my mouth talks before my brain engages (ADHD) and it would likely just slip out.

          Supports are great, being willing to have employees take advantage of those supports is fantastic, being open and willing to talk when people need it is important – forcing discussions/meetings about mental health isn’t.

          1. Brad Fitt*

            Samesies. It’s never my intention to cope at someone but one person’s coping mechanism can be another person’s trigger point, and it’s not always obvious where the lines are.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            yeah, the banter is not the problem, it’s having to banter that’s the problem. Caused very specifically by having to discuss stuff that shouldn’t even be on the agenda.

        3. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          I pay to sit through an hour of therapy a week and it’s exhausting to be that emotionally vulnerable to consider deep topics. These meetings would make me feel like I either have to entirely tune out to not get into my self-analysis mode and cry (and thus are pointless) or make me wonder every moment if I need to be more aware and analyse every interaction with coworkers in terms of our mental health.

        4. Autistic AF*

          If your last sentence is leadership’s perspective too, you might be able to frame this as an OHS issue. You wouldn’t be expected to do physically dangerous work without proper training, yet you’re being asked to do mentally dangerous work with no training. This approach could easily backfire given stigmas around mental health though! Another option would be a Mental Health first aid course.

        5. LGC*

          I’m probably going to get in trouble, but…yeah, I definitely believe they have good intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions can also be used as paving material.

          (For the road to Hell, in case that wasn’t clear.)

          If they are really supportive of you guys, I think they’ll probably be open to hearing your concerns. Or, more to the point, if they are really supportive of you guys, they should be open to your concerns about being asked to regularly act as a group therapy facilitator. And for what it’s worth, it’d be just as awkward if you were giving advice about how to deal with someone in ketoacidosis or talking about how you handled it when Bob from accounting had an epileptic seizure.

        6. PurpleStar*

          I work in mental health. Suggest partnering with your local community mental health center and having them do Zoom presentations for your staff. That way you can get a mental health clinician to present and they would be qualified to answer questions. Plus, it would give staff a direct link in case they want to seek out mental health services. Having a professional run the training would also lend a certain amount of gravitas to the presentation and should tamp down the banter and inappropriate comments.

          Oh, and talking about a co-worker’s mental health, or any health condition, is a huge violation of HIPPA.

          1. Brad Fitt*

            Nope, HIPAA only applies to medical professionals (there are some rare exceptions, google is free), so it’s very unlikely that an employee talking about another employee’s health is a HIPAA violation—but it is a total dick move.

        7. Keymaster of Gozer*

          The odd, occasional ‘take care of yourselves and here’s help if you can’t’ message at a firm is ok.

          Regular ‘let’s go into depths about people’s mental health’ talks are not.

          Here’s one reason: I’ve got a LOT mentally wrong with me. Sitting through regular talks about it from untrained people would actually make me worse. It feels like attention is being thrown at me for not being ‘normal’.

          Also have physical disabilities so can state I feel the same way if a regular ‘here’s how to ensure you stay fit and healthy’ chat was present. It’s a really fine line between ‘awareness’ and ‘making people feel abnormal and wrong’.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer*

      How to actually support mental health at work:

      Lead by example, not lead by lecture.

      Show staff that it’s actually ok to raise issues, to not be on the job 24/7, to take time off when you need to…etc.

  2. Nesprin*

    If my manager was leading a discussion of mental health, my options would be to joke around or start crying.

    1. DarthVelma*

      I would go for option 3 – unexpected internet outage.

      Seriously, the presentations by untrained folks are bad enough. But I am NOT discussing mental health issues generally or my mental health specifically with my boss and/or co-workers. This is a badbadbad idea all around by the OP’s company.

      1. mineshaft*

        I have PTSD.

        We were told in advance of a specific “mandatory” training that was gonna trigger me really badly.

        I called out sick that day and ended up ducking it. And now it’s a 10 minute presentation on our monthly staff meeting, so I mute everything and go into another room.

        People really need to think about their audiences with these things.

        1. Brisvegan*

          I have PTSD, too.

          I have had to leave the room and sob outside after being triggered by a presentation on mental health issues. It was compounded by the assumption in the way it was presented that mental issues would not affect staff, only our students. (I’m a university academic.)

          I don’t know how I would handle something like your company has. It sounds awful.

          1. Metadata minion*

            Yep, I had a similar experience when we did training for how to report sexual harassment/assault on campus. I had assumed it was just going over the administrative procedures, which department does what, etc. which is important but not particularly emotionally taxing. Nope, it included detailed descriptions of sexual assault. Presenter, you just shared that 2 in 10 women are sexually assaulted in college. You said that to a group of at least 12 college-educated women. Perhaps you could do the math here and assume some of your information might be triggering to the people you are addressing?

      2. tinybutfierce*

        Same. My boss/peers have absolutely no reason to know about my mental health history, and I’m not going to sit there and re-experience my own trauma at work while someone talks about theirs because my employer can’t be bothered to actually think about how something like this would affect people.

    2. Anon Today*

      Yeah—while I’ve never had to do a meeting like this, I could see myself joking around as a way of hinting that this kind of thing really is not any of EmployerCo’s business.

    3. Elliott*

      Yeah, I wonder if some people are joking to relieve tension because they feel uncomfortable. Not that that makes it okay if the jokes come across as insensitive or stigmatizing, but I can see how these presentations might be hard for some people to engage with.

    4. kittymommy*

      A lot of people use humor when they are uncomfortable (I know I do), even more so sometimes when it becomes relevant to a person. This is just not the type of thing they need to be doing especially in this manner. Some of these “jokes” may have been individuals who have/are struggling with these topics and don’t know what to do in the moment. And talking about another employee (can’t figure out if they are still with the company) and a hospital visit that may have been related to self-harm??? Yeah, good luck having anyone who may be going through that now not feel like they are under a spotlight.


      1. Self Employed*

        Didn’t we just have a letter about “do I need to hide my self-harm scars at work?”

        Unless I completely misread the original letter, it sounds like the helpful people at work decided a coworker had been self-harming and needed a trip to the hospital. Unless the person had been self-harming pretty badly at work and/or had a breakdown that needed more than a quiet conference room and cuppa tea, that’s an absolutely terrifying precedent. If they had shown up with suspicious bandages, unless they’re bleeding, why is that their employer’s business?

        I had a roommate call 911 and cost me a trip to the ER because she thought I had self-harm scars. They were poison oak blisters, in long rows down my forearm. I’d gone geocaching the previous weekend and brushed away a leafless poison oak shrub before realizing that’s what those pesky plants were. At the ER, someone looked at them closely enough to confirm they were just poison oak and being a doofus around poison oak in the winter didn’t mean I was a danger to myself or others. I still had to pay for an ambulance and ER trip, though, because my insurance only covers medically necessary treatment in-network.

        1. Li*

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who read the whole possible self-harm thing that way!

          I realize there must have been way more background to the situation than OP provided since that wasn’t the focus of the letter, but I am very sensitive to things like that due to a previous situation where my sister was forced into an involuntary “voluntary” inpatient mental health stay due to someone’s overreaction and my immediate reaction was “yikes!”

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          Oh, man! I wish your roommate would have at least paid your medical bills from that unnecessary trip!

    5. MsClaw*

      And *every meeting* !?!?!?! Surely that’s an exaggeration?! You’re not really opening every status meeting or team meeting or discussion/design/whatever meeting with a presentation on depression or suicide prevention, right? Why?

      And I agree, if management feels like the staff needs a module on suicide prevention, they should bring in appropriate resources, not ask assorted managers to present it.

      1. Not my real name*

        Every meeting is definitely too much. I have PTSD, and going to a weekly meeting that includes a talk on mental health concerns would feel like psychological Russian Roulette. Is this the meeting that’s going to trigger something that sets me on a downward spiral? And if it’s not, there’s always next week!

        OP, please ask for a meeting with your boss, or their boss, or anybody in the authority chain that you think will listen. It’s very likely that these meetings are actively harming someone on your staff. By all means, make sure your company offers comprehensive health care plans that allow employees to seek help when they need it and make sure you approach mental health in the same way you approach physical health (it shouldn’t be any weirder for me to seek treatment or accomodations for my chronic mental health condition than it would for another employee to seek treatment or accommodations for their chronic physical health condition, etc). But you are not a mental health practitioner, and even if you were, you are not _your employees’_ mental health practitioner.

      2. LGC*

        To be fair, LW said that it wasn’t every meeting that they were talking about mental health – it was that they were talking about safety every meeting and mental health tied into that fairly regularly.

        Also to be fair, it still sounds like it’s probably too often for that sort of in-depth discussion (I think in most cases, you’d probably be able to have that conversation once every few months at most), but I want to be fair to the LW here. (I also need to stop using the word “fair” as often as I did here.)

        All that said…never mind the mental health discussions, I’m just curious about what field would still need weekly staff safety meetings where it sounds like people are primarily working from home! That’s not what Alison’s answer deals with (and it’s definitely not what LW is asking about), but if I were LW, I’d wonder if we really need to go over safety in general that often. (I tend to optimize ALL THE THINGS to the consternation of my coworkers, but that’s just me.)

      3. Roci*

        Agreed, there is no reason to be delving into this every week! We have monthly safety newsletters that often talk about an aspect of mental health, but every. frigging. thing. nowadays is about mental health because we are all so stressed by politics and pandemic and the environment crumbling around us and the state of the world. There is not that much more “awareness” that work can provide, besides improving work conditions themselves.

      4. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        And those meetings are WEEKLY! It’s unfair to everyone involved, since those who may need mental health assistance aren’t getting the right kind from the untrained managers, and those who don’t need it are having to suffer through uncomfortable blather when they could be working. And having a manager try to talk to staff about a sensitive personal topic, in front of colleagues at that(!), is an entire other kind of wrong.

    6. Sleepy*

      Yeah, I’ve been very triggered by some mental health discussions at work where we were supposed to share. I developed a coping strategy of trying to jump in and steer the conversations to a light, less consequential topic. It’s totally possible others saw this and were annoyed.

    7. Chinook*

      Ditto, with a default to joking. In fact, I was once a substitute teacher covering a class when a teen came back after a suicide attempt. It was the elephant in the room for her classmates until she made an offhand joke about it. When she saw their reactions, she pointed out that, when she was suicidal, she wasn’t joking about anything an everyone should worry when the jokes stopped. I remember looking at her and saying something about my not being the only one to react like that and we continued on with a less stoic, elephant filled atmosphere.

      Makes me wonder if we would have been reported about joking about a serious matter when, in reality, we were showing a healthy way to deal with this topic that is different from those who aren’t experiencing mental health issues expect.

  3. Styx-n-String*

    In addition to everything Alison said, I don’t love that an actual emergency experienced by an actual coworker is used as an example here. That employee was in a crisis and the last thing they need is to be held up for scrutiny to their entire team of coworkers.

    The whole situation is a big YIKES and a terrible idea, and is being implemented in a dangerous way.

    1. FridayFriyay*

      Yes. YES. This is just… yikes on bikes from start to finish. Untrained people leading these sorts of conversations could actually be dangerous or detrimental to people who are truly struggling. Don’t do this. Please, please take Alison’s advice to heart.

    2. animaniactoo*

      Yeah, the fact that they’re being held up as an example, is really detrimental to their ability to function within the company imo. Which means that while they received an appropriate reaction in the moment… as an ongoing thing, the company is bad for them.

    3. Gabby*

      My reaction exactly! Imagine how awful it would be to be that coworker and know that your entire team (or worse, random other teams at your company) were repeatedly rehashing your mental heath crisis in company-encouraged meetings.

    4. Chickaletta*

      And if anyone can even so much as gleen or guess the identity of that person, there’s HIPPA violations all over that.

      The problem with these discussions is that you don’t know what you don’t know. You could end up discussing this with someone whose husband committed suicide last year, or someone who just had to commit their teenager to a mental health facility, or someone who has been in counseling for their own mental health crisis. And you may never know those people are in your audience while the rest of the group brushes it off so they can start the real meeting or god forbid starts making jokes.

      I think Alison’s advice is the best thing possible – “here’s some resources for you”. Then start the actual meeting.

      1. Student Affairs Sally*

        HIPPA only applies to health care providers, not employers. So legally they are actually fine on this front, even though ethically and morally it’s a hot mess.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          And even for health care workers, it’s limited. If my coworker tells me over the cube wall she has anything from COPD to a hangnail, HIPAA doesn’t prevent me from telling anyone under the sun about it, as long as I’m discussing information I got from her directly in conversation and not from accessing her medical records in the course of my work. It’d be a shitty thing to do, for sure, but it would not be a HIPAA violation, even if I am an employee who is normally subject to the rules of HIPAA in my regular work.

      2. Sylvan*

        It’s not a HIPAA violation, but it is a big ass mess, lol. And you’re right, you never know. Mental health issues are common, so it’s pretty likely that at least one or two mentally ill people have already been sitting through these talks and having an uncomfortable time.

        1. Brad Fitt*

          How is the coworker being discriminated against because of a disability covered by the ADA? (What the employer is encouraging is profoundly gross, unethical and poorly thought out but it’s probably legal.)

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        HIPAA covers health care entities and health care providers. However, there are other laws requiring employers to keep certain information about their employees confidential, especially with regard to medical issues or disabilities.

      4. Self Employed*

        Back when I was temping, my host company had an all-hands meeting on the dangers of stress. The speaker opened the talk with a light-hearted joke about sex being the best way to destress.

        My husband had walked out on me about a week before that. It was NOT funny.

        Nowadays I think they would have other reasons not to open a work presentation with a reference to having sex, but this was the 1990s.

    5. char*

      Yeah, if saw someone’s actual mental health episode being used as a public case study at my company, I would hide my own mental health struggles from them at all costs. This is the sort of thing that discourages people from seeking help.

    6. Sylvan*

      Yeah, I would really not want to be that employee. Just imagine going through that and having the story shared in a presentation.

      It also seems like they’re lumping self-harm and suicide together, which is a really common thing but not a very helpful one. Some people who SH and aren’t suicidal, are hesitant about talking to a professional because they think they’ll be treated as if they’re suicidal. Some people who are suicidal think they’ll be written off because they haven’t done X, Y or Z.

      1. OP*

        I think I mis-used self harm. The concern was that the employee was suicidal. I probably need a slide explaining the difference in those terms (that’s a joke…).

        1. Sylvan*

          Lol. No worries, it’s just good to have it straight when you’re talking about mental health illness.

        2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          But this is another good reason why you should not be leading these discussions. You are likely to inadvertently use incorrect terminology or get something wrong just because … it’s not your area of expertise! Your company is off the mark on this one, and you should not be expected to do this. Also, these discussions, which are meant to be informative and helpful, can also be very triggering to certain people if not handled appropriately (and that’s even without the employees making jokes). And honestly, if your company is making such a poor showing of how they handle these discussions, I can understand why employees are not taking it seriously. It’s just a mess, and I agree that you should push back, and maybe even show other managers or whoever is in charge of this your post, Allison’s response, and the comments as well.

          1. Tinker*

            Yeah, it kind of puts me in mind of a letter from a good while back where LW who worked in a place that had legitimate cause for heightened awareness around suicide prevention saw that a coworker had a troubling pattern of scars and asked for advice about how they should go about intervening in a way that leaned towards a presumption that the coworker was in crisis and possibly an active threat to themself. In an update later it turned out that LW’s coworker used to work as a baker.

            There as here, the desire to do the right thing is good and asking for advice is a really great step, and some of that advice is going to be that people who are informed about this subject enough to teach or make risky judgments about it will know that distinctions exist among suicidality, history of self-harm, active-self-harm, and catching a hot oven rack periodically with your forearm.

            Lacking expertise in a field outside one’s own isn’t a fault, but it is a reason to make use of experts.

        3. ceiswyn*

          Seconded that your confusing of the two issues is a demonstration of why you shouldn’t be leading these sessions.

          Have you just (either intentionally or inadvertently) taught your entire team that people who self-harm are suicide risks who need to be taken to hospital? If so, you have just made your workplace significantly LESS safe and supportive for anyone who self-harms, and is now unable to talk to anyone and has to completely conceal any marks in order to avoid incredibly stressful overreactions.

    7. Ryn*

      HONESTLY. This is the opposite of safety. Creating an environment where a person who gets help is then framed in that light in perpetuity is a harmful, unsafe environment for people struggling with mental illnesses.

      1. Chilipepper*

        Right, if I had any mental health issues, I’d be hiding them because I can see how a former employee’s health is being treated!

    8. WellRed*

      If your company designs widgets, why on earth devote a huge chunk of meetings on mental health led by non professionals. As to regularly using an actual employee’s experience, I can’t even. Which again points to why the company should not be doing this.

    9. Roquefort*

      Yeah, I’m having a hard time understanding why that would be appropriate unless the goal is to humiliate anyone who may be struggling with mental health into never, ever discussing it in the workplace lest they become an illustrative example for the “normal” people.

    10. Wendy Darling*

      Honestly I have a history of mental health problems that were, until the pandemic started, quite well-controlled and I’m currently holding on by my fingernails mental health wise — like, I’m okay now but I’m riding very close to the not-okay line. Luckily I have excellent coping skills and a great support system so I’m gonna be fine, but it’s something I’ve had to work hard at over the last year.

      For me, a slide about warning signs of suicide would basically be an instruction manual for how to conceal my ongoing mental health struggles at work. I have a good support system at home, the last thing I need is my manager up in my business about it. I don’t want to have to explain that I was in therapy for years and am still on meds and if I start having real problems I’ll get back in therapy.

  4. Lizy*

    My first thought after reading the headline was “don’t” (as in, don’t joke).

    After reading? I just… what… no. The best advocates for mental health I had for managers were ones who encouraged taking time for yourself, and understanding when I was having issues.

    For example, I took a REALLY short leave after my daughter was born. This was, really, in my best interests for a number of reasons. While the C-suite was encouraging me to take more time (which was dumb, really, because one of the reasons I couldn’t was because it wasn’t paid and I didn’t have the leave. If you want me to take more time, pay me.) – my direct manager simply supported what I needed. I ended up needing time off for therapy sessions and she didn’t even blink – “just take whatever time you need”. THAT is the kind of support we need, IMO.

    1. TPS reporter*

      That is so true. I’m not a doctor in any way shape or form and I manage a bunch of people. I do work related support things like approving time off and leaves, alleviating workload, joining in on tough conversations. If they seem to be stressed or burned out I ask them (one on one) how they are and point them to EAP resources if they need help. I never push beyond small talk (of course I want to know about their lives and want to seem genuinely interested) unless they want to go further. I’m not their therapist, their partner, or their friend even.

  5. Roeslein*

    Ugh. I wonder if OP works at my previous company? We also had every meeting start with a “safety” discussion (I worked in an office where none of of our tasks was particularly dangerous, although of course it’s still important to be aware of proper ergonomics etc.) Basically we were told to “hold the handrail” when going down or up the stairs to the cafeteria about 200 times a day, and actively told off if we were seen not doing so. It felt like being back in primary school.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Mine does this as well, though 80% of the company is front-line operations and maintenance folks who are operating large equipment and doing other safety-sensitive stuff. The back-office staff just pick “check your smoke detectors” and “be careful of ice on the roads” and other boring “safety contacts” for the start of their meetings.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Actually, sometimes people do pick something like “the pandemic is rough, we have an EAP, take care of yourself” as the “safety contact” at the start of the meeting. At most one slide, no discussion of actual details of specific mental health issues. Vague to the point of useless, honestly, but way less potentially harmful than what OP is being asked to do. And our management actually does want us to have work/life balance and to take care of ourselves if we are having issues, so it’s not infuriating the way it could be.

      2. Roci*

        I asked if we could interpret “safety” more broadly to make it work-applicable, like not clicking phishing emails and making sure to backup our data and stuff. They said no.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      That feels like the Health & Safety episode of “The Office.” If the office gets cold, put on a long-sleeved tee!

    3. Phony Genius*

      I know a company where, after they were bought by a larger company, employees in the office were written up for not using the handrail on the (well-carpeted) stairs. Many switched to the elevator to avoid accidentally forgetting (and got much less exercise).

    4. PT*

      I worked for a company whose insurer would send monthly safety briefings that we were supposed to go over in staff meetings. Our company was so diverse in reach, half of them didn’t pertain to any given group. One month it would be “Minimizing Repetitive Stress Injuries for Teapot Painters” and the next “Barn Safety for Llama Handlers” and the one after that “Playground Equipment Safety for Camp Counselors.”

    5. Software Engineer*

      I had an internship at a tech company with lots of goofy safety signs on the stairs! My best explanation was that since it was a hardware company and a large arm of the company was manufacturing, that safety culture had bled over in weird ways. (I was also told by my manager that it’s automatic firing if you fall asleep on company grounds, like you’d have to take your car out of the parking lot if you wanted to nap in your car! At my current job I’ve only napped in the office once, when I had a headache and going home to my baby wasn’t a very restful option)

  6. Managing In*

    What is the work-related reason for “our company has promoted safety as an agenda topic to start every meeting” and … is it working? What is this trying to accomplish? What is it actually accomplishing?

    1. Forrest*

      If you’re in an industry which routinely deals with high-risk situations, starting each meeting with any safety updates, near-misses, incidents to review etc doesn’t seem that abnormal? I agree it would be weird in a normal office environment but when I worked with medics it was very normal for departmental meetings to have significant incidents as a standing item, and moving it to the top of the Glenda would be a pretty reasonable me way to make sure it gets discussed when everyone is still fresh rather than rushed through at the end when everyone’s jaded by a 20 minute discussion of car parking!

      1. I edit everything*

        This particular team is working from home, though, so I wonder what kind of safety issues they might be facing. Watch out for cat scratches? Make sure to shovel your walk?

        1. BubbleTea*

          We all had to risk assess our work spaces when we started working from home. I was like… my desk is just a few feet from my bedroom, there is a risk I might go back to bed.

            1. DarthVelma*

              This takes me back to my internal auditing days. I’d say having my home office a few feet from my bedroom means “goes back to bed” falls into the High Risk category. So does “makes more cocoa” and “pets the cat”. Though “checks the mail” is low risk – too darn cold to go outside right now.

              I will now spend the remainder of my workday coming up with the Condition, Criteria, Cause, Effect, and Recommendation to address this vitally important issue. *snort* (I didn’t really want to put together boring Excel charts this afternoon anyway.)

          1. TPS reporter*

            My cats routinely step on my keyboard and type nonsense messages through team chat. The biggest danger I’m in is my colleagues thinking I’m a weirdo.

            1. Wendy Darling*

              My dog is very quiet and sometimes decides to hang out under my desk. And I often don’t notice, and end up kicking him. Then he makes Sad Doggie Face at me and I feel guilty.

              This is the biggest risk in my home office. Dog guilt.

          2. Emma*

            We have to do this periodically, we have a task list that includes stuff like checking that our computer cables aren’t damaged or creating a trip hazard, making sure our chairs are properly adjusted and screens positioned to avoid eye/neck/whatever strain. It’s actually kind of useful for us, because if we do identify any issues then management will let us borrow improved equipment from the office.

        2. Tinker*

          Not to be an Overly Earnest Bob here, but actually… yeah kinda?

          I used to work in a place that was Very About Safety and some of the habits stuck at least a bit, such that when I noticed that there were some problems with my back porch railing that were a bit pricey to fix and it had been fine and maybe I could put it off, the imagined gimlet eye of my former safety director landed upon me and I called up the railing people to replace the railing.

          Then one day it turns out there was ice under some of the snow on my back steps and I ended up amusing myself by doing parallel bar dips on my very luxurious new railing instead of landing dominant-hand-first on the hood of my car from an awkward height in the middle of a pandemic.

          Also then I shoveled the steps.

    2. Elizabeth*

      This is common in healthcare. It can be clinical/quality of care. It can be “safety during deep freeze/rolling blackouts conditions” or how to walk safely on an icy parking lot. Reminders about not leaving garage doors open when a very specific crime wave was happening early last summer.

      Our current daily safety reminders revolve around the cold weather and pandemic response.

    3. Antilles*

      It’s very common in industries where your work involves physical labor or injury risk. I work in engineering and every job I’ve ever had uses the “we start meetings with a safety moment” requirement.
      Even the companies which don’t particularly care about their employees in general will make a big deal out of safety, purely for business reasons: Many clients (including virtually all government-funded contracts) consider your company’s safety record; if your rate of OSHA reportables is too high, your bid will often be thrown straight in the trash no matter how good you are on price/technical skill/etc.
      That said, such meetings/topics should be focused more on the actual job. Oh sure, sometimes it makes sense to mention a personal life thing like holiday safety, but by and large, the point is to avoid work-related injuries and that’s where the safety topics/training should focus.

    4. OP*

      Hi – OP here. The aim is to make safety part of our culture – both in our products and our employees behaviors. When we started requiring a safety topic at each meeting – it seemed like too much and many of us expected it to be an initiative that died off. But that’s not what happened – instead, over the last couple years the company has invested considerable resources towards safety and has created systems to ensure employees can raise concerns and see real actions taken. I can say that 90% of my team has shared a safety lesson (without being required to) and that the team has real discussions prompted by this agenda topic.

      1. Not Me*

        I have to admit I’m really struggling to believe a company that has untrained managers leading discussions on the mental health of a co-worker is truly making good decisions about anyone’s safety. You are putting the mental and physical health of your employees at risk and it’s very dangerous.

        If I were you I would flat out refuse to lead those conversations any longer. Don’t forget you can be held personally responsible for your actions as a manager, not just the company.

        1. Librarian1*

          Yep. They may be better at the physical safety part, but yeah, they are not doing a good job on the mental health safety part.

          1. Not Me*

            Endangering someone’s mental health endangers their physical health too, and can create physical danger for those around them.

      2. Managing In*

        Hi OP – thank you for your response! Do you think your company is conflating “safety in conduct and work” and “mental health prevention and treatment”? That seems weird. Those are two really separate things. Even if you’re having the discussions on separate weeks, it’s still very weird to include them in the same initiative. (Why are they doing that? Whyyyyyy?)

        I saw you mentioned ‘pushing to focus more on awareness’ and…. I am already aware of meditation (for example). I don’t really appreciate ‘awareness’ message either and I think a lot of people will feel the same way.

        Could you instead push to separate the two discussions? Safety = one thing. Sharing! Group discussions! Jokes! Fun! Mental health = totally separate thing! Reminder of resources the company offers! Other carefully vetted content! No discussion of former coworkers’ mental health issues!

      3. Nesprin*

        I work at an institution with safety minute type systems, which have included things like goose attacks, broken faucets, slippery sidewalks, exercise bands and how you need to wear safety glasses with them, and for some of these, eye rolls and laughter is a sign that the recipients are engaging with the material. After all, a goose attack happened and hurt an employee and also is objectively hilarious.

        That being said, I’d argue pretty strongly that employees rolling eyes and laughing at their coworkers mental health emergency is an indication of how uncomfortable they were with that information and how inappropriate it is that it was shared. Your employees deserve their privacy, and while I understand the instinct towards wanting to prevent the next emergency, quite frankly sharing anything past “Here is how to access the EAP” is really inappropriate.

      4. Groundhogs Again*

        Hey OP- hoping you see this. I decided to do this next time I have to do an all-staff safety moment while I was typing it.

        Instead of talking about specific concerns, you could do a bit on demystifying your company’s benefits. We used partner’s EAP benefit for some mental health for our tween- since that time partner has been asked to describe in detail what it was like using it by multiple coworkers. Not all EAPs work the same, so being able to say ‘hypothetically, if you were seeking X from the EAP, you call this number (or visit this website) this kind of person answers and you provide this information. They then make an appointment/give you a list/call you back (there’s a lot of variation).

        1. Krabby*

          This is great advice!

          Most people don’t even know what an EAP is, or assume that it only has resources for a certain subset of things. Going over how to log in and what’s included can be game changing in terms of driving engagement and usage.

      5. MHFA Claire*

        Hi OP,
        Someone further down the page suggested Mental Health First Aid, and I reckon that would be a great option for you and your fellow managers, as well as any other interested colleagues* – but then, I’m a MHFA instructor in another country, so I WOULD think that!

        One of the things that people learn from MHFA is that mental illness is incredibly common – it’s estimated that about 1 in 5 adults will meet criteria for a common mental illness (anxiety, depression or a substance use disorder) in any given year. Unless your team is very small and/or very statistically unusual, there are people in the room experiencing this kind of struggle when you’re having these meetings. Lots of people in this comment section have pointed out how distressing it is to have these kinds of discussions thrust upon you when you are already dealing with a mental health problem. Please consider that what you’re doing in good faith may in fact be causing harm for people you would like to help.

        I also wanted to observe, from the perspective of someone who is trained to run workshops that encourage people to talk about mental health and mental illness, that a program like MHFA puts lots of scaffolding around those discussions, which you just can’t do for a short session tacked onto your team meeting. For example, at the beginning of training I encourage people to step out to take a break if they need to, and to indicate to me if they are stepping out for an innocuous reason (e.g. going to the bathroom) or if they’re struggling with the material. We don’t cover suicide until people are well settled in the group and the setting. When talking about suicide risks and warning signs, I’m also really careful to frame this as information for the future, and encourage people who have lost someone to suicide to be kind to themselves while listening to this material. I still frequently encounter people feeling triggered and distressed by the material and have to debrief with them at a break or after the session. I think it is a bad idea to just throw this information at people without warning, particularly in a group where it would be complicated or awkward for them to opt out.

        Your responses so far indicate you’re pretty invested in running things this way, but I’d hope you will at least have a conversation and reflect with your manager and any other people at your level who are running this kind of meeting.

        *Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t make it mandatory!

    5. SomebodyElse*

      I’m not as bothered by the safety briefings… it’s not that uncommon and it sounds like the managers are given slides to go over.

      The mental health stuff is just plain weird… and is not ok. I wouldn’t want to present a slide discussion mental health to my team, not because I don’t think it’s important, but more because I also wouldn’t talk about gallbladder health and the importance of colon health to my employees… I’m not a doctor nor am I their doctor!

      I am more than qualified to lead a safety discussion (with material) that covers ergonomics, how not to stick forks in electric outlets, and the safe and proper way to sit in a chair with wheels to reduce falling (I did not make that last one up, it was once in an employee handbook at a company I worked for).

      I think the OP needs to use the feedback as a way to get the message across to TPTB, that it’s a bad idea for managers to be leading these discussions and they should really come up with another way to offer information to employees.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        The level of detail in these slides is really the problem. Most people would be fine presenting “Remember that our insurance covers preventative care. Check with your doctor about what sort of routine exams and screenings you might be due for.” A similar outline of resources available on mental health would be fine.

        But details on signs of mental illness to look for in your colleagues, led by someone without any training? Just no.

      2. SeluciaMD*

        This really is problematic and I’m tremendously bothered by it. While I’m not a mental health professional, I am a certified trainer in both Youth Mental Health First Aid and suicide prevention (and did quite a bit of work on our local task force around youth suicide) and there was a LOT of training, coaching and education that went into that work. Having someone without the proper information, background, context and skillset to share the info and then navigate the kinds of discussions/questions that often arise is a TERRIBLE idea. As Alison says, it really can do more harm than good. What the OP is talking about here sounds like far more than a safety briefing and I completely get why they feel out of their comfort zone. Even with significant training it took me quite awhile doing co-facilitation with someone more experienced before I felt capable of doing training on my own. Mental health stuff is tough and personal and there is so much misinformation out there – I can forsee so many potential land minds having a total novice presenting this info with nothing more than a short slide deck to guide them!

        OP, I hope you have the capital to push back on this. Good luck!

      3. meyer lemon*

        Yes, there is a paternalism to this level of workplace mental health intervention that is troubling. I’m all for employers recognizing their role in supporting employees’ mental health, but you have to recognize that this is very fraught for many people and have robust boundaries for what is and isn’t appropriate for the employer to address and discuss. To be honest, even with a trained facilitator, I would be uncomfortable with an in-depth workplace seminar on suicide prevention, unless it was strictly opt-in. I just don’t think it’s really an appropriate venue for that.

      4. Not my real name*

        I think this is a good way for OP to bring it up with their superiors. If we’re going the “Mental Health is Health” route and trying to normalize looking out for our mental wellbeing, then let’s just treat it the same way we treat physical health. I don’t want to go to my weekly departmental meeting and be given a list of warning signs for any kind of illness, whether we’re talking depression or pancreatitis, because that’s not what work meetings are for. The most input I want from my workplace about my health is “Hey, everybody, take time look at the staff online portal to make sure you’re aware of all the services that are available to you through the company’s health and wellness plan.”

      5. Sunny*

        It’s a legitimate concern. I don’t know what it was about the chairs at my university, but I randomly slid out of them during class multiple times. (I was never hurt, just startled myself and the rest of the class.) I didn’t have that issue with other wheeled chairs, just those ones.

        I also agree with the people commenting that this is not really an appropriate subject to jam into a work meeting. I had a similar experience with a mental health awareness thing in university orientation. I believe it was heavily modified for next year, because I seriously spooked the people running the program by having a complete sobbing meltdown in the middle of the event.

    6. Cat Tree*

      I think this kind of thing is pretty normal. We have quick, 1 or 2 minutes, safety moments at the start of certain types of standing meetings that have an agenda. Sometimes it’s for stuff outside work, like keeping hazardous substances away from toddlers, driving in bad weather, or using equipment safely. You might think these things are obvious, but statistics show otherwise. Sometimes it’s good to have a reminder to take 30 seconds to grab a stepstool instead of standing on a chair to change that light bulb. It’s rarely anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it’s worth the minute to discuss it and it’s completely normal to do this in most places I’ve worked.

      1. Amaranth*

        But you wouldn’t expect your team leader to present a lecture on signs of hemorrhoids or menopause, or kidney stones. They might hand out some flyers with warning signs and what to do and who to call, but its a more personal and private health situation.

  7. Rach*

    The language used here makes me suspect this might be the company I work for. If not, OP’s company isn’t the only one to do this recently! As someone who suffers from a significant mental health issue, I can confirm these are tough to listen to and do more harm than good and agree completely with Allison’s advice.

    1. Emma*

      Right? As someone with plenty of experience dealing with mental health problems, I get annoyed enough with the “reduce workplace stress by breaking your day into small tasks, and reward yourself when you complete one!” stuff. But the idea of a manager with no qualifications in mental health, giving presentations on topics like depression and self-harm? The very best outcome I can imagine is that it would be patronising and unhelpful.

      I haven’t self-harmed regularly in 13 years, haven’t attempted suicide in 11, and I’m generally pretty stable and resilient. And I would struggle to deal with this every damn week. The impact on someone who was struggling could be really terrible.

  8. Titi*

    Right?! I would be horrified if I had to sit through a meeting like this. When our managers discuss it at my old job it always focused on our amazing EAP and that it was available and confidential and staffed with professionals 24/7. They were never expected to try to be that counselor or to speak on things they had no experience in.

    In my opinion a really good EAP can do wonders and treating employees like human beings instead of robots helps with a lot of work stress and I feel would be more helpful than this.

    1. Roquefort*

      Even the way you bring up the EAP is important. I’ve been in workplaces where it was presented almost as “if you’re unhappy in the workplace at all, use the EAP instead of whining about the institutional problems you think you notice, you poor crazy thing, you.”

  9. Ryn*

    Wow, this has so much room to harm and retraumatize staff, I almost can’t believe it’s happening. I would consider leaving a job over this to be completely honest.

  10. SP Person*

    I’ll also add that if suicide prevention and mental health promotion are things your work wants covered, local suicide prevention coalitions likely have trainers and subject area experts who’d be happy to come cover these topics for free. The QPR curriculum (question, persuade, refer) for suicide prevention is also available as an online self-study, so there are other ways to address this specific need that don’t put folks in awkward or potentially risky situations.

    1. memyselfandi*

      Totally agree. My previous agency did these trainings through a state supported public health program. I have been through these trainings, and it can be very emotional for some people.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Right! If the executives at this company are sincerely concerned about mental health, they need to consult qualified professionals to design and implement the program. What OP describes sounds like it’s going to do more harm than good.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, suicide prevention is a worthwhile training, especially if you work with a vulnerable population. I’ve had to ask student assistants if they were a risk to themselves and without good QPR training, I would have been much more worried on how to start the conversation even though I have mental illness. But yeah, you bring in trained people and you make it an optional training, so folks can avoid if it would be triggering.

    4. Generic Name*

      This! I took a sucked prevention class and they had trained people there. It’s a very upsetting topic and they had staff who could handle if someone felt triggered by the content and could talk them through it. It should t be handled by untrained lay people

    5. SeluciaMD*

      I’m a QPR trainer and can tell you that even after doing it regularly for almost a decade, those presentations can be really fraught. We started including someone from Crisis Response at as many sessions as possible because so often people that would opt-in to these trainings in the community had been impacted in some way by suicide and even a careful, well-framed discussion with appropriate language and context can be a massive trigger. Often times people don’t expect to have that response and are caught off-guard by the intensity of their emotions in the moment. It is SO HARD. I just cannot imagine asking someone who has not been trained AT ALL in this area to go through some powerpoint slides with people they work with or manage. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

      FWIW, I highly recommend the online QPR training – it’s a really practical, accessible approach. (Google “QPR Institute” to get to the site)

  11. thiscantbereal_butitis*

    How awful for the employee who experienced the previous “handling” of a “situation” to be the continued subject of any talk. Your company needs to get out of having managers present this information in any context other than to introduce a professional from outside of the organization who can use examples that do not include “that time joe cut his arm.”
    This is a horrific example of “awareness” and is likely harming many people in your workplace. As a mental health professional I cannot underscore the harm that this can cause enough. Awareness and stigma can be the same thing without the proper information and care.

    1. OP*

      OP here – this is not a current employee and the situation was not part of my team (or adjacent to). There is no possibility that the former employee has been part of or even heard of this discussion. I realize that wasn’t clear in my reply.

      1. Student Affairs Sally*

        It’s still not anywhere remotely near okay! If anything it might actually be worse, because the former employee can’t say “I’m very uncomfortable being used as an example for this, please stop”.

      2. animaniactoo*

        This is not something you or anyone at the company has any way to guarantee.

        Employees talk to each other – at other companies, with former employees, and so on.

        Even if they are no longer there, holding them up as an example – unless it is truly an anonymous example where NOBODY knows the details – is not a good idea. Beyond it’s not a good idea, it’s a really really bad idea.

      3. Esmeralda*

        Doesn’t matter. Any discussion of an actual person who works or worked at your employer is truly not ok. If only because the message is: “we will talk about you in public, in detail, about your personal and medical problems” –is that a message you want your current employees to get? The implication being: better not let anyone know anything at all, and better not seek help.

        Not to mention how the employee in question will feel about being used as an example (former employee, different team, etc : there is a non-zero chance that a current employee is in contact with that person.)

        1. Scarlet2*

          Agreed. Even if there is *really* zero chance that anyone might be able to identify the employee, just knowing that if I was ever in that situation, my case could potentially become a subject of discussion at work would be enough to ensure I never, ever ask for help.

          1. A*

            I don’t think OP is necessarily justifying – they are just clarifying, and it sounds like they did not create the materials. So definitely good to call out if they are able to, but it’s not fair to put the entire weight of their employer’s approach to these things on their shoulders.

            1. Julia*

              If you look at OP’s comments throughout this section, you will see a lot of justifying language and very little “yes, I realize that could come off badly”. It’s not her policy, but she is defending it (by talking about how it fits into a larger safety initiative and by continuing to insist that discussing a coworker’s mental health problem is somehow in any way acceptable).

      4. Roquefort*

        I’m honestly shocked that you’re trying to lecture your employees on mental health, but simultaneously think bullying is okay as long as the victim isn’t around to hear it.

        1. OP*

          I’m not sure how you could come to the conclusion that I think bullying is ok. I don’t. There are no powerpoint slides about the one work incident. It is not reviewed weekly or monthly or more than the once (by any manager that I know of). I gave that as an example of one way that a discussion went (people involved talked about the incident). The discussion was around what to do when someone is in crises – at the time, the manager wasn’t prepared to handle a crises like that and did the best they could. The discussion was around what to do incase something similar happened in the future. The backstory of the employee and what may have triggered the incident were not discussed. This person has since passed away. I understand that nobody would like their personal crisis to be gossiped about – that was not the intent. I’m not sure what I would have done in the moment if I had been that manager – but I now know what resources are available to help, so I am actually grateful for that discussion.

          1. Julia*

            You get that it’s still not OK, though, right? There is a reason companies’ discussion of these issues ends up sounding very vague and generic. It’s because it’s just not OK to say “last time we encountered a crisis like this in the workplace here’s how we handled it” when it’s related to someone’s health. If you were talking about the impact on work while someone needed to be out for health reasons, fine. Otherwise, not your wheelhouse!

          2. FridayFriyay*

            Were any of the people involved in this discussion actually qualified to recommend a course of action in response to this particular type of mental health incident? Because if not, the discussion could end up being actively harmful should another such emergency arise.

            Either way, past or present employee, no real incidents should be discussed period – even if the discussion were led by a professional. If management persists with requiring these ill-advised activities there is absolutely no reason a hypothetical cannot be used to illustrate an example.

          3. serenity*

            OP, I’m really concerned that your company is doing this and that you seem to be unaware of the many, many concerns people have raised here.

            There is a huge gulf of difference between “here are some of the resources the company has for employees who may be experiencing mental health-related issues” and “let’s have a discussion about mental health in general and also let’s talk about a former employee who has since died who had mental health issues”. There’s no context in which the second type of conversation is useful to your employees. It’s absolutely harmful for companies to have employees completely untrained in counseling or mental health to be leading and encouraging this kind of discussion, full stop.

      5. Reba*

        Oh! I initially was imagining that maybe this discussion was giving space for coworkers who witnessed this to talk about their perceptions and how the company handled it… That’s justifiable, if tricky to handle the discussion properly. The reality is worse. No one wants their lowest moments to become a powerpoint slide! Fictional examples, people!

        (OP, I know this is not your idea)

      6. Anon For This*

        But your *current* employees *are* hearing this. And they’re going to realize that they could be the next Edifying Example discussed in other teams all over the company for years later if they let any hint of a personal problem slip at work.

        Push back as hard as you can. This is already doing so much more harm than good.

      7. Amaranth*

        The point isn’t if they’d heard about it, but the possibility of someone knowing who they are and/or someone identifying them and discussing their personal circumstances. Talking about someone behind their back doesn’t make it okay.

      8. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Please, no. There are people who worked at the same place I did in a different building, who I barely knew or just vaguely knew who they were, who are now my friends. Ever hear of Facebook? Friends of friends (of friends, of friends) easily become real-life friends over time. It’s like the old-fashioned social letter of introduction. And anyone in that chain of friends could still be actively employed there, and say, “Hey, I didn’t know Garak slit his wrist when he worked here” and it will spread like wildfire, including back to Garak and ANY FB FRIENDS WHO ARE NOW HIS CURRENT CO-WORKERS/FRIENDS. Do not do this. Please.

      9. tinybutfierce*

        If that former employee was even remotely friendly with anyone who still works there, I can almost guarantee you they absolutely know about it.

  12. Shannon*

    I am a student in a nursing program that collaborated with an outside organization for a mental health first aid training seminar – which might be something that the organization could use instead of what they are doing.

    We worked with this organization:

    1. Batty Twerp*

      We have a number of mental health first aiders at my company. This is in addition to an EAP provided by a third party.
      I… have no idea how effective these are in general, since I just don’t feel comfortable approaching any of the people who have been trained as MFAs.
      These employees have (like I have in my regular first aider role) taken on this responsibility in addition to their existing workload. It feels a bit icky to me.

      (Can I also say how much I like that every ad on this page has been for organisational mental health support and EPAs)

      1. serenity*

        My organization had a presentation given to us by MHFA staff and it just felt off to me (and to others in my org…we didn’t move forward with it). The idea that any kind of “training” (and the ones they offer are lengthy) is going to prepare laypeople to know how to 1) address mental health issues, and 2) do so in an effective, sensitive manner, felt like wish fulfillment to me.

  13. animaniactoo*

    OP – I agree with Alison and I would push back very very strongly on someone who is not trained being a facilitator for this. For one major reason – when you raise the topic, there are going to be people in your audience who are the people you’re talking about. And for some of them, their reactions are going to be all kinds of tells. But somebody who doesn’t have the background training is NOT going to be able to recognize those tells or react to them appropriately.

    So if the goal of this is to highlight issues, and be supportive and make sure people are comfortable and being reached – that is a major roadblock in the way of the goal.

    At the very least, YOU as managers should be talking with a mental health facilitator about how to lead these talks if you’re going to be responsible for them. So it might be useful to position this as wanting more support for yourselves.

    1. Anon Uni*

      A few years ago, very sadly, a student at my university committed suicide. The university announces the death but not the cause, so most faculty members found out from our students and via the grapevine. The university administration then instructed all professors to take time in our next class session to address the topic of suicide, to give students space to discuss it, and to direct that discussion in a healthy way as well as providing resources to the students. They stressed that many of our students may have been affected by someone’s suicide or considering harming themselves in this way, so it was important for us to address it and handle it well. We got guidelines about language to use.

      I objected very, very strongly. We are not trained mental health responders. We would be springing a discussion of suicide on students who had just shown up for a regular math class or something, and who might be made very uncomfortable and not feel able to leave. The exhortation to be sensitive because some students may have experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts also ignored the fact that some faculty may have, as well, and were now being asked to discuss the subject in their workplace while also taking a sort of pastoral responsibility for others’ comfort with and understanding of the subject.

      The whole thing was a mess. I had no intention of putting my students in the position of anything like a surprise mental health discussion, particularly as I had no way of knowing who might have been friends with the student who had just died. I let them know that the university had lots of resources for helping them, and that I’d be happy to put them in touch with those if they wanted.

      Tl;dr: “mental health support in the workplace” shouldn’t potentially expose or distress people, shouldn’t ask managers to work far outside their expertise, and shouldn’t ignore that managers, too, might be affected by mental health issues.

  14. OakElmAsh*

    I wonder is the joking a response to a really really uncomfortable conversation? I would consider whether people are kidding around because they’re not taking it seriously, or because it’s a reaction to feeling very awkward and uncomfortable

    1. Genny*

      This was my thought too. It’s also possible that people are joking around because they don’t find these mental health briefings useful. OP admits she isn’t a trained mental health professional and that people aren’t really engaging during the discussion portion of the brief. It requires high levels of trust to open up about mental health struggles and I suspect most people wouldn’t be comfortable doing so with their colleagues, so instead they joke around.

      1. DarthVelma*

        I’m wondering if the joking around has gotten more prevalent over time. I cannot imagine having mental health discussions at work nearly every week for a whole year.

        1. OP*

          Fortunately, it hasn’t. The question is from a couple months ago, so we’ve had a few more discussions and there was no joking. Mental health is more of a monthly topic, whereas safety is weekly.

      2. Amaranth*

        It can be deflection, too. Someone might use dark humor or sarcasm as a way to convey ‘this is not okay’ or to avoid showing an emotional response. Though some people are just insensitive jerks.

        1. SMH RN*

          Yeah it could very well be a way to deal with an uncomfortable topic…I’m a nurse who works on mental health and dark humour is how a lot of us deal with serious topics. It sound like something quite extreme happened with the coworker (whose privacy is now potentially being violated) and people might just be coping with it in different ways. Maybe not appropriate ones but honestly having unsupported managers without expertise keep bringing it up isn’t really appropriate either…

    2. irene adler*

      Yeah, I agree.
      I’m thinking there is a component of discomfort here resulting in the jokes/kidding around.
      There’s been some good suggestions here on finding SMEs to give the presentations. I bet they know how to make the topic less uncomfortable for folks while still delivering the important message.

  15. kwagner*

    Reading this letter gave me hives. OP this is bad for you /and/ your team. No wonder its difficult for your team to not banter or joke during these talks because it has inserted self harm and the lasting effects of suicide into the same format as budget discussions and planning work happy hours or whatever. Mental health is not a work topic of discussion unless it is in a specific, roped-off, and actually optional space led by an experienced professional. You shouldn’t have to field these conversations and no one should come to a staff meeting preparing to talk about or hear about a family’s experience with suicide. I’m sorry you have to deal with this.

    (also anyone else bothered by the fact that an employee’s mental health crisis has been repeatedly brought up??)

  16. Caramel & Cheddar*

    Even if the LW *was* a trained mental health facilitator on top of their regular job, this still feels really unhelpful. There just seems like such a huge gap between what companies provide (i.e. outsourced “use it if you think you need it” resources that often have some sort of cap that prevents them from truly being useful) and what employees want (work environments that help reduce the need for these external supports in the first place). Your company isn’t really putting a focus on mental health; your company is putting a focus on outsourcing it to someone else.

    1. FridayFriyay*

      Yes. Even if it was their job and they were trained, doing it with their own coworkers/team is inappropriate in just about every scenario I can imagine.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Yep. Some of my coworkers are trained counselors and did this sort of work before they came to our department. They don’t ever do the trainings for our staff or students. We get someone from the university counseling center to do them.

  17. Tinker*


    I’m having a hard time understanding the full context of this — it sounds like this is an industry where a lot more is topical than it would be most places I’ve worked, but “that time one of your coworkers was self-harming and we had to take him to a hospital” seems like an entire heck of a topic to throw out for a Weekly Safety Moment that kicks off a routine meeting. I’d say I probably wouldn’t react to that particular thing with gallows humor, but I just deleted a sentence suggesting a lighter topic such as discussion of a particular gruesome and viscerally disturbing category of physical injury so I guess actually I would.

    Seriously, though, that seems like a personally traumatic subject with privacy concerns that you really should not be having without psychological safety measures, and the reactions describe actually seem like a pretty predictable result of not doing that.

  18. AnonymooseToday*

    JFC!! This is happening weekly???!! I’m pretty mediocre mental health, low dose medication, don’t see a therapist, but even for me this would be way too much. I can’t imagine how it would effect me if I was having worse mental health issues. I thought this was going to be like quarterly, which would be hard enough but could see the reasoning behind this. But to talk about this stuff every week, that is just too much. I can totally see why people have resorted to banter/jokes, probably to cover their real feelings over it.

  19. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Okay so I’m a person who has dealt with mental illness for more than 2 decades and I would absolutely joke around if I was forced to sit through these ‘talks’ in my workplace because that’s how I deal with uncomfortable things and there is no way I would be comfortable with these conversations in my workplace.

    Your upper management is approaching this all wrong.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Me too! I usually clam up during these sorts of trainings, but I’d be shocked if the humor isn’t a response to people being uncomfortable.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      I’d be pulling out my knitting. (a) It’s calming and can help me get thru the topic. (b) I actually can knit without looking at my hands BUT I can also use it as a way to not have to make eye contact with people. And if anyone objected to me knitting in a meeting I would probably use language about it being helpful in stress-inducing situations, like the current one.

  20. a clockwork lemon*

    Is it possible that these employees are making jokes because the topics being covered are both uncomfortable and intensely personal? I have a well-managed mental health condition (that was not always well managed) and the literal last people I want to be discussing any of my own experiences with are my boss and coworkers in a group setting–I especially don’t ever want to have to go into details about the way this stuff has impacted me and the people in my life.

    I could absolutely see myself making some sort of joke like “having to spend this much of my work day talking about anxiety is giving me anxiety” or something along those lines.

  21. MichLaw*

    Weekly! Did I read this correctly? Why would you need to discuss mental health every week? This sounds excessive. Perhaps people are joking due to discomfort or annoyance.

    1. NotJane*

      Yes! I was about to comment on this same point. Weekly?! That just sounds torturous. I can’t imagine there are many, if any, changes or developments from one week to the next that would necessitate mental health being a focus of *every* team meeting.

      Like you said, it definitely seems excessive, not to mention that the time spent watching slideshows on various mental health topics, and then being “encouraged” to engage in a discussion about said topics, could almost certainly be better spent doing, idk, actual work. Is anyone surprised that “meaningful participation on this topic is limited“?

  22. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    I would absolutely throw a fit if I was expected to discuss mental health issues with my manager and co-workers. Not only am I a very private person with my own struggles, I do not have the emotional bandwidth to listen to people I work with discussing something as intensely personal as how they and their families have been affected by suicide (or depression, anxiety or whatever the topic is).

    The whole time I was reading the letter, my shoulders kept going up higher and higher around my ears. Nope, a world of no no no no no. This practice is incredibly intrusive and awful.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, exactly. For me, mental health is an intensely private thing, like all health-related matters should be. I don’t discuss it with my parents or in-laws, unless it’s something that directly affects them and then only in the most general terms, so I see no reason to discuss it with my coworkers. I like them well enough, but I’m a private person and I like to keep my relationships at work friendly but relatively superficial. I’m not at work to make friends. Granted, I’m not at work to make enemies either, but sometimes it’s just easier to work with people when you don’t know too much about them.

      TBH, I have a hard time imagining a working environment where safety issues have to be brought up once a week in a meeting. Perhaps in an industrial setting or a lab where people work with hazardous materials, but in an office environment, nope. I would also find it extremely patronizing if my employer brought up things like road safety or how to prevent break-ins at home. If it’s directly related to the the work, sure. Or even work-adjacent, for example our cybersecurity bulletins that are helpful both for work and for protecting my own devices.

  23. GreenDoor*

    For my workplace, our director will steer the conversation in a general way. We’re work from home now and she will just add a point in our meeting with, “….and I just want to remind everyone that I realize that working from home doesn’t always work for everyone. These are difficult and challenging times so, as a reminder, here’s the number for the EAP, Workplace offers FMLA and other leaves of absence if you need one and here’s the HR contact for that, for those of you on the insurance here’s what types of services it covers.” And then the most important statement I believe a manager can make: “If you need a change in your work day, your work load, or some other accommodation, please contact me privately and we’ll talk.” AND THEN SHE FOLLOWS UP. All the slides in the world don’t matter if the culture isn’t one that actually cares about doing what they can to accommodate mental health needs in a discrete and responsive manner.

  24. Verb*

    Oof yeah, I dealt with some pretty severe depression on and off for several years, including a few bouts of suicidal ideation, and work was usually my safe space where I could feel normal and put together and on top of things for a few hours. Bringing all that mental health stuff into it would have resulted in, at best, a whole lot of ugly crying that would be awkward for me, you, and all my coworkers. Allison’s suggestions for ways to address mental health as a company would have been so much more useful than a not-actually-therapy-but-trying-to-be-theraputic-except-no-one-in-the-room-is-a-therapist-comfortable-dealing-with-those-feelings slideshow.

  25. Sara without an H*

    Some managers bring up that incident and talk about how it was handled and how we need awareness and then encourage discussion about that scenario.

    No. Just no. Nobody, nobody has any right to use the “scenario” of an individual employee as a discussion topic. I’m astounded that this organization’s HR people haven’t raised holy heck about this.

    And if I were the employee in that situation, I’d be talking to an attorney.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Thanks. I agree, though, that it still should not be done, especially if the incident was recent enough that everybody remembers that particular employee.

      2. Roquefort*

        OP, I’m gonna be very blunt: if I were forced to sit through monthly meetings in which a manager with no mental health experience lectured me about suicide prevention while clearly on the verge of tears, I would seriously consider quitting on the spot. Doubly so if a past employee’s mental health crisis was repeatedly brought up as an “example” and nobody saw anything wrong with that.

          1. pancakes*

            It fits and is appropriate just about anywhere on the page! Having people with no expertise or even training in mental health lead presentations on mental health is a great way for the company to convey that it doesn’t take mental health seriously, and using a former employee as an example really emphasizes how little thought and preparation has gone into this topic.

        1. Amaranth*

          Seriously, is the message there ‘well, everyone totally failed this employee, hope you all do better’? You don’t have to personalize mental health issues to prove they exist. Explaining that yes, someone did manage to catch their tongue in the teapot polishing roller has the virtue of saying ‘safety measures are x on this equipment for this reason.’

      3. allathian*

        Not only that, but the employee is dead. The whole thing is just so wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to start.

  26. Brian*

    Another option might be the organization’s health care provider. I’ve had (credentialed) representatives made available through primary insurance or the EAP to lead these discussion.

  27. BRR*

    In addition to the LW not facilitating these mental health presentation, am I in the majority or minority on not being fond of “We are encouraged to share and start a discussion.” I’m a fan of an employer having good resources available for employees, but I’m really really uncomfortable with having an in-depth mental health discussion with my coworkers. I would under no circumstances want to be in a meeting where my coworkers talk about friends or family being impacted by suicide.

    The more I’m thinking about this, the more I’m just adding this employer to the list of employers who maybe had good intentions, but have completely botched trying to help their employees mental health.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I’m with you. “Here’s a reminder on resources the company has available” is a fine thing, “please discuss these very serious topics without a trained facilitator” is not.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I think my company has been doing a good job of this during lockdown. We’re regularly reminded of the resources that are available (including employee assistance programmes) and the company runs talks (with professional facilitators) on things like suicide awareness just as they do on physical health issues. They’re clear that the lockdown can be very stressful and are trying to support us.

        We’re not expected to discuss the details at work in staff meetings and I’d be very uncomfortable if we were expected to.

        1. allathian*

          Same here. I haven’t attended one of these meetings because I’m doing pretty well all things considered. I’ve used my employer’s EAP in pre-covid times when I was near burnout due to the workload, so I know where I can get help if necessary. But the presentations are held by mental health professionals who work for our occupational healtcare provider.

    2. char*

      I agree, I would find it very off-putting – and, honestly, possibly even triggering – to have to sit through open discussions about things like suicide and self-harm during work meetings.

    3. Esmeralda*

      Discussions of how to handle X or Y scenario, if it led by a trained facilitator, are very helpful. I’ve been in sessions like that (mental health issues, domestic violence and stalking, active shooter).

      I would not participate in any such discussion with my colleagues (the nicest people in the world, some of them trained counselors) that was not led by a trained facilitator. And not any discussion that was not sharply focused on practical, how can I/we handle this if it happens at work.

  28. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    This whole scenario gives me the willies. I don’t like talking about my mental health issues, and no way in hell would I do it in a workplace context – it would be all too easy for the employer to use it against me. “Well, we’ve got this big project coming up, but don’t give it to Rikki Tikki Tarantula because she has anxiety.”

  29. Writerboy*

    Good on you for wanting to do the right thing. If your company will pay for it, it might be good for you to take Mental Health First Aid before leading another one of these sessions. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It teaches you how to assess risk of harm to self and others, and provides ways to empathetically direct someone in crisis to appropriate supports. Your local mental health association probably has information on courses in our area.

    1. FridayFriyay*

      Mental health first aid training would not provide sufficient training to be able to responsibly facilitate a discussion about mental health. Mental health first aid training for the team in question led by someone external with the relevant training would be appropriate. The discussions OP is describing don’t sound appropriate no matter who is facilitating them.

  30. Anon for this*

    While you’re dealing with how this is implemented, I would be careful about how you respond to the “jokes” people are making about this. As some commenters have pointed out, it can be a response to an incredibly uncomfortable situation. It can also be a defense mechanism of people who have struggled with these issues, who use humor to avoid a different emotional response. I, personally, have struggled with self harm, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and eating disorders, and I have a pretty bad habit of cracking a joke whenever something like this comes up to try to lessen the impact on myself. It tends to make others uncomfortable and I’m working on stopping, but I think if someone scolded me for such a joke and reminded me to “take it seriously,” in an environment where I was already extremely uncomfortable and felt like it was a wildly inappropriate conversation to have, I would not respond well.

  31. WellRed*

    I’m really surprised from the comments to see that it’s a normal thing to have regular “safety” discussions that don’t pertain directly to the work or workplace. I’m an adult. I don’t need tips on toddler safety or proper lightbulb changing techniques from my editor or the HR director. how is that not paternalistic?

    1. TurkeyLurkey*

      For a while, we were getting “healthy eating” tips in HR emails which included suggestions like switching to low fat ice cream. It was inane and annoying. This is like that but multiplied by 1000.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Ooo… we get dumb ” self care” stuff like exercise 30 minutes a day. I am a literal disaster and work til 8 each night. I don’t need your extra email

      2. Sarah*

        This is also the worst. There are definitely people there with eating disorders that are definitely being harmed by this.

        1. Mischa*

          Can confirm that it’s very harmful. I had to email our “wellness” initiative to be removed from the new year wellness challenge because, surprise, it triggered my eating disorder and I had a minor relapse. Thankfully I no longer receive those emails.

          1. allathian*

            I’m so sorry for your relapse, I hope you’re feeling better now. I wish employers would consider more carefully what is and isn’t appropriate to send to employees. Sure, an employee who’s often on sick leave is going to be more expensive for the employer than one who isn’t, even in countries where employers don’t pay health insurance for their employees. But my lifestyle choices are my own and I deeply resent any interference, no matter how well-meaning, by my employer. It’s one thing to provide opportunities for exercise during the workday, or making it easy to eat a healthy lunch, it’s a completely different thing to attempt to pressure employees into using them.

          2. Managing In*

            Seconding this. I’m glad you’re off the list and hope you’re doing OK now. I am currently about 10 years recovered from an ED and decided to politely but assertively email back next time I get one of those awful emails, on my own behalf and hopefully to make an impact for any of my coworkers who are not comfortable with or interested in or able to speak up. I go to work to work and get paid, not to get triggering “health-focused” newsletters.

          3. Ryn*

            I finally said something to HR when they included “drink ice water to burn calories” in their wellness section, which is literally the first piece of “advice” you get on pro-anorexia/pro-bulimia/thinspo type websites. It was so incredibly triggering and luckily HR was super receptive when I said “hey this is potentially harmful.”

            1. Lizzo*

              Out of curiosity, do you know where they were getting their email content from? Was someone browsing the internet for tips, or is there some sort of verifiable health resource they consult?

              Also, good for you for pushing back. I have/do not had an ED but have a complicated relationship with food, and this would’ve made me super uncomfortable.

      3. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Our place had a late afternoon exercise program 1) that was usually during my busiest time, and 2) half my old joints are in constant achy rebellion against the other half, so no thanks to your generic exercises geared toward healthy 30-year-olds. I was considered to have a bad attitude for not participating in this “wellness opportunity.”

    2. anon for this*

      I so agree with you. At a social services nonprofit I used to work for, we had some kind of “instructional” presentation at our quarterly staff meetings. Sometimes it was on different programs that the nonprofit ran (which was helpful), but it was often more like this kind of personal safety presentation. At one of the most horrendous ones, a gentleman (not an employee) whose daughter had been hit by a distracted driver gave a presentation and showed a video of actual footage of people being hit by cars. One of the people in the video was a child. There was no warning about this. Turned out my admin had been the driver of a car that hit a child when she was in high school. She ran out of the room crying during the video and was thoroughly traumatized. Never should have been shown during work.

      1. Self Employed*

        Did the people in charge of bringing in the guest speaker have any idea that he was going to do high school driver’s ed “Red Highway” stuff? Or did they do so little due diligence on their guest that he surprised them too? That is not work-appropriate. If they need to do a presentation about “no texting when driving” they can use graphs of accidents before and after laws against texting, and how long your car travels in the time your eyes are off the road at different speeds. Also they can announce the title ahead of time so if anyone is triggered by car accidents, they can skip the meeting.

    3. Metadata minion*

      Yeah, I’m so glad my workplace doesn’t do that. Sure, there are all sorts of “common sense” things that any given person won’t have picked up for whatever reason, but having an employer try to fill those gaps seems incredibly weird unless they’re things you’re going to be doing at work.

  32. Djuna*

    We’re lucky enough to have an excellent EAP where I work, which managers have been mentioning (I going to type promoting but that felt wrong) to their teams.
    The pandemic is weird though, we’ve had several employees wanting to set up meetings that sound like the ones the OP is being forced to run. I’ve had to gently point out to more than one person that while their intentions are good they haven’t thought it through, they’re really not qualified to help with any mental health issues, and that they could end up doing more harm than good. Of course, they argued with me, and then I had to sigh and bring up the potential for legal liability and then I was a big meanie but at least they stopped arguing.
    As someone with my own mental health issues, I think initiatives like these are not just wrong-headed and dangerous, but they also minimize the issues by thinking anyone can present on/help with them. Suuuuuuuuuure, Frank in accounting is going to fix my bipolar disorder over a coffee and a walk….

    1. PlainJane*

      THIS. So very much, this.

      There are things lay-people can do for stress, and to make life better for each other, sure, but they are not generally ad hoc psychotherapy groups with Frank In Accounting (heretofore named Fia). Fia might be great to go bowling with once the pandemic lifts, or to have a streaming party with sometime, or to go walking with in the park. Being friends with Fia might well be advantageous for mental health… but he’s not curing an actual mental illness. That’s like… friends can help you eat salads and exercise with you, but if you have a digestive issue, you go to a doctor. Right?

      1. Djuna*

        Right! And that’s how I ended up framing it for one particularly helpful person. He meant well, but he really couldn’t grok that some of his co-workers could be dealing with something he couldn’t “fix”, or that hearing about and feeling responsible for someone else’s struggles may not be the best thing for his own mental health.
        I’m not even in HR, but this kept coming up in Employee Resource Groups I’m in and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut because I was terrified it could actually happen.

  33. YourFriendlyNeighborhoodTherapist*

    I’m a psychotherapist, and there is so much wrong with this. There is a reason we train for years, become licensed, and have to follow a code of ethics before engaging in mental health work. You have no idea what could trigger other people. I’m sure it makes some people, if not everyone, uncomfortable who is attending. I can see how it would make the person who has to present the slides uncomfortable (it wouldn’t make me squeamish, but that’s because I’m TRAINED).

    Why is the employee who might self harm being discussed? Hello, privacy violation! Also, there’s nothing to discuss because none of the managers will know if they handled it correctly, since they’re not mental health professionals.

    I would frame it as a huge liability for the company since they could be opening up a can of worms by having someone who is not qualified talking about these issues, potentially leading to someone being triggered, feeling extremely uncomfortable, or handling a mental health crisis in the wrong way. Can you imagine if someone took the steps presented to prevent someone’s suicide, and it was not a good outcome? Just no to all of this. If they want a thorough training, bring in a professional. In the meantime, do as Allison suggested and don’t beyond your scope of competence.

    1. TherapistK*

      Another licensed mental health professional here, working in a non-mental health setting. Even though I technically could lead this kind of training at my job, I still wouldn’t because it’s not my area of expertise, I’m not working as a therapist in this space, and just because I could be someone’s therapist, it doesn’t mean I’m everyone’s therapist. All of which is to say, there are people who are experts in leading these trainings in the workspace, know how to manage the responses they might get to said trainings, and, as YourFriendlyNeighborhoodTherapist said, have had years of experience learning how to do so. If they are open to feedback, please encourage them to invest in training like QPR that is led by experts in this field and is really excellent!

    2. Allypopx*

      Yes thank you. As someone who has struggled with mental health my whole life and is very deep in mental health communities and knows some of this stuff as second nature – I would feel EXTREMELY triggered seeing it handled so incompetently. I would feel unsafe. Having the presenter almost in tears? Allowing casual joking? Not being able to answer questions? Facilitating discussions without training? And this is happening weekly to monthly? I wouldn’t make it a month.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this just goes to show that it’s awful for a lot of people. That said, I think that the joking around is a response to an intensely uncomfortable situation. Still, as someone posted above, one person’s coping mechanism can be someone else’s trigger. It simply isn’t okay to ever put employees through this much shared discomfort at work.

    3. Lizzo*

      Honest question: if there is an incident at a workplace where an employee commits an act of self-harm and other staff need to intervene (could be just calling 911, but might be something more involved depending on the situation), what is the best way for the company to address this that both respects the privacy of the employee in question while also not giving the appearance of sweeping the entire thing under the rug? Is that another opportunity to raise awareness of the the EAP options and then let folks self-select for additional help/conversation? Is there more that can be done?

  34. Mockingdragon*

    My eyes BUGGED OUT reading this one. There is so much nuance to all these scenarios, you cannot just throw warning signs at people and expect them to handle the real thing well!

    What if the self-harming employee weren’t suicidal? (That’s how it was for me). How humiliating to be singled out and sent for help if it were an edge case.

    1. Allypopx*

      I think the OP said elsewhere that they used the word self-harm incorrectly and it was clear he was suicidal – but even that’s a great example of why OP shouldn’t be handling this. You need to know the words you’re using. People who self-harm are most often NOT suicidal (though of course they can be). They’re two very separate issues.

      OP I’m sure you’re very good at your job, but this is not your job and you’re not good at it. I’m being blunt because this is important. You could cause real harm here. Stop leading these discussions.

  35. PlainJane*

    I think there are better ways to address mental health in the workplace, that’s for sure. Group discussions of private subjects like that will always be weird and uncomfortable. I think that in terms of offered services, it’s enough to just bring them up.

    It also sounds like it’s leaning more toward illness than toward health, if that makes sense. The things that should be discussed in a group are how to make the workplace healthier–what can we do to improve morale and decrease stress levels? Are there changes we could make to the staff lounge that would make it more restful? Are there communication style differences that are causing distress?

    When it comes to “How are you, personally, feeling?”… uh, no. People should have the choice not only of whether or not to spill their personal things, but of whether or not to be at the level of intimacy that’s involved in knowing those things about other people. That, itself, is causing stress, as it’s forcing very personal communication among people who may not want it.

    As to the laughter and jokes? That actually strikes me as a healthy response to a terrible practice. Humor breaks the stress for a lot of people. Instead of trying to stop the joking around, STOP DOING THIS AWFUL THING INSTEAD. Let people know they can come to you if they need to, and you can get them to the right resources, but forced mental health discussions in the workplace need to stop yesterday.

    1. Reba*

      This is a great distinction and framing for discussions that are work-focused and have potential to actually impact work for the better.

      1. PlainJane*

        I think that we have to look at the workplace as a workplace–not in terms of “How can we make these people productive?” or whatnot, but as a distinct entity, which is not the family, not a friend group, and not a therapy circle. It’s a place where people aren’t really free to leave, where they have particular pressures that don’t exist in other places, and where you may well be constantly with people who, even you like them all right, aren’t the ones you’d choose as confidantes. Dealing with the particular cultural quirks of that situation could help everyone in it. Of course, it requires looking at organizational culture, which no one really wants to do.

        I’d also just point out that this situation sounds extremely stressful. Forcing personal “sharing,” for me, crosses the line into seriously creepy territory, both for the listener and the speaker. It’s like asking people to just show off those surgical scars, no biggie… :shudder:

  36. princessbuttercup*

    I deliver Mental Health First Aid and suicide intervention training (ASIST/safeTalk) as a facilitator, both internal trainings at my own workplaces and in the community. One of my absolute (personal) requirements is that it MUST be an optional attendance, or if it is a requirement for staff to attend (which isn’t uncommon in some frontline service provider roles), I need to see the accompanying policy that outlines why this training is required for these roles. Regardless of optional or required attendance, preparing safety precautions and understanding resources available to participants is probably where I spend the most of my preparatory time (at this point in my career).

    I don’t even want to offer more info about my experiences and how to do these trainings well, because it’s just so, so not a good idea to have these run by day to day managers with no training. Yikes.

    1. HHD*

      Came here to say this. We require frontline staff to do some level of MHFA – but have a clear policy, which includes a ‘how to get an exemption’ clause, and what resources are available to support.

      We provide mental health services and this is one of the few courses we buy in rather than deliver in house because it’s so specialist. Day to day managers or trainers just shouldn’t be delivering this stuff!

  37. OwlEditor*

    This letter makes me so grateful for my current employer. They stress mental health, but they step up. They make sure to favor a work-life balance. During the pandemic, they sent us all to work from home, but they send out occasional anonymous surveys to see how we’re doing and it gets specific, like asking about childcare, if you feel able to do your job, what other stresses are present and to remind you of the resources available, such as a 24/7 hour support line and six free counseling sessions through the EAP.
    Every monthly company meeting, they have talks, but it’s usually through our HR, and they don’t get into specifics, just reminding us of the resources and courses, and ERGs available.
    I’m so sorry you have to do this OP. I would feel so uncomfortable. I agree with Allison that you need to push back as a group.

    1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      I’d consider that survey as intrusive. They might say confidential, but if it’s being returned via email or even a portal, it’s not. Any IT person could figure out who sent replies and from where.

  38. Franz Kafkaesque*

    I had a close family member die by suicide and I can guarantee you there’s no way in hell I’ll be “sharing and starting a discussion” about it at work. My god.
    OP, I think your heart is definitely in the right place.
    I do wonder about the intentions behind things like this. Is the company really worried about the mental health of the employees or are they worried about potential legal liability?
    I wish I had something more constructive to offer, but all I can really do is second AAM’s opinion and state that having untrained managers facilitate these discussions in a workplace is WILDLY inappropriate.

  39. Ann*

    You contract out a qualified mental health professional– can we just start calling these people MEDICAL professionals ?– who is equipped to deal with these issues or develop/educate your team about the company’s Employee Assistance Plan.

  40. pcake*

    I would be tempted to leave a job where the weekly meetings include things that could trigger and traumatize employees. The meetings including that stuff could literally be doing serious harm to some people, and to be honest, without having mental health professionals set up their program, it’s unlikely to be in any way helpful. It’s funny, but most jobs wouldn’t consider giving medical advice for physical problems, but many think it’s okay to give medical emotional advice.

  41. Anon 4 this*

    OP, please please please push back on this practice at your work place. In my own experience as a person with mental health challenges who struggles with suicidal thoughts, it can be really triggering if I’m in a particularly dark place to have to listen to others talk about suicide. If I worked for you and was subjected to this, you would absolutely be doing more harm than good. Please. Stop. This. Practice. NOW.

  42. Knitting Cat Lady*

    Oh hell. I can understand why people would joke around in a situation like this! Nervous laughter and humour as a defence mechanism is a thing.

    No idea how I would react.

    Black gallows humour and nitpicking everything to hell and back are my top two guesses.

    Especially if the topic was suicide prevention.

    I’ve come pretty close to trying to off myself (read: stay away from windows and balcony and waiting for GP to open to wait for psychiatrist to open and then committing myself)

    Discussing suicide prevention at work? Without previous warning? Argh.

    1. TPS reporter*

      Especially too if a colleague recently experienced a visible mental health issue, the company should be even more sensitive to discussing it in group situations and with the appropriate amount of training and gravitas in the setting.

    2. Arctic*

      Yeah, I’m not saying joking is okay. But I have had depression and have had close family members die by suicide. They are things I take very seriously. And I could see making some dumb jokes without thinking to avoid having to actually discuss it. Not jokes about those situations but sort of self-deprecating ones.

      Again, I’m not saying it is okay. But some people aren’t doing it because they are ignorant but because they know all too much and have trouble speaking about it.

    3. Allypopx*

      I am deep in the dark humor well and I think my desire to remain professional and my discomfort would be at such odds that I’d either be completely paralyzed or I’d lose my entire temper

      1. TPS reporter*

        Exactly, that’s why I’m saying don’t do it in a group setting with an untrained facilitator.

        I’ve experienced plenty of very upsetting mental health issues in my family and I too would resort to dark humor if my manager randomly decided to have an awkward group convo about suicide prevention.

      2. Roquefort*

        Yeah, as someone who primarily deals with my trauma by laughing hysterically at it (I crack up in therapy on a regular basis, which my therapist actually encourages), I am not sure I’d be able to sit through one of these presentations without either giving in to the desire to start giggling uncontrollably or running from the room to avoid embarrassing myself.

    4. ceiswyn*

      Yeah. I have experience of past suicidal depression, and I’m currently dealing with an eating disorder. These sessions sound like they cut way too close to sensitive topics without actually providing anything more than insultingly basic ‘common sense’.

      What I would do would probably be to overshare my experiences until everyone was too uncomfortable to go on and PAINFULLY aware of just how inadequate their ‘training’ is in the face of real issues.

  43. anone*

    Jokes are one way that people handle incredibly uncomfortable situations, so they might just be a reflection of how inappropriate this overall set-up is too.

  44. Swamp_Witch*

    There are SO MANY therapists or mental health professionals out there right now who can give this talk for your company and they’re prepared to handle deflection appropriately. It’s just a simple google search and you’ll find someone, trust me.

  45. Anon for this #534782*

    Agree with all the comments here. My employer does something similar, albeit annually, and includes sexual assault and rape prevention.

    I have spent the past 19 years being triggered, contemplating leaving each year, having to out myself to multiple male supervisors as “a person with issues,” and finally have enough capital to push back.

    I don’t anticipate success.

  46. Jane*

    Another case of work trying to be all things to all people. I don’t need my work or colleagues to be my friends or therapists. I’m friendly and like my teammates, but we’re not friends! I want my work to compensate me well with pay and health benefits, be somewhat interesting, and not bother me outside of business hours. That’s it!

  47. Grim*

    I’d suggest giving everyone a ‘mental health’ day off once a month as opposed to these horrible group therapy sessions.

    No one really wants to hear it; I’d prefer working instead.

  48. Boof*

    So… would the company decide to have managers start doing presentations on breast and testicular exams?

    I man, I think it’s be fine to pass out resources for mental health, and maybe review crisis management (ie, yes call this [mental health crisis team] if someone says they might harm themselves) but they shouldn’t be having employees talking to each other about about their personal experiences and the risk factors/prevention are probably best sent out rather than reviewed live by a manager in a talk.

    1. UKDancer*

      We did actually have a talk on testicular and prostate cancers for International Men’s Day at my company, but fortunately we got someone from a cancer related charity to come and do it. It was actually really well attended apparently.

      I’d agree it’s much better not to ask managers to do that sort of thing. Having someone professional do it is significantly better.

  49. A Genuine Scientician*

    Good Lord.

    I teach at a university, so mental health is a big deal with administration here. But in our meetings, we have

    a) someone from the counseling service come and talk to our faculty and our teaching assistants during training just before the semester starts about how to recognize when someone might be an immediate danger to themselves or others,

    b) a simple list of the resources provided by the university, with who to talk to about what kind of thing, and

    c) the intermittent thing about why you shouldn’t work 24/7.

    Someone without a health background leading a meeting about mental health for anything other than “Remember that you are not trained in this field, but here is a list of resources to make sure people know exists” is just asking for trouble.

  50. Please don't spit on me LLAMA MAMA!*

    I’m so glad to read others think similarly to me. I am in a profession with an extremely high suicide rate (llama doctor) and the “mental health outreach ” fad is simply awful. We are supposed to sit and talk with someone thinking about self-harm. Hell no, how about calling 911 and hanging with the person until the professionals arrive. That does two things – brings trained assistance for someone hurting, and lets everyone know we take this type of threat seriously. I wouldn’t try to treat a heart attack, or a homicidal threat, without calling 911; why on earth would I handle a suicide threat any differently? Anything beyond providing resources for help is a dangerous overreach.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      The problem is that you can’t control who shows up to that 911 call, and if it’s cops, a bad outcome is too likely. Maybe give the person a ride to the ER instead?

  51. Xenia*

    This reminds me of the story about a college that had a “happiness week” where they spent the whole week discussing various physical health, mental health, and personal safety issues. That’s not a health week, that’s a misery week!

  52. Elizabeth*

    I lost my first husband to suicide. I would be FURIOUS if I had to sit through this at work. It would profoundly throw off my day, or longer, and would make me distrust a manager who thought this was reasonable.

  53. Allie*

    Half of my role is leading discussions like these and the thought of someone without the background in mental health doing it makes me shudder. My team has extensive training and education on the topic before anyone is allowed to lead these discussions. While mental health discussion is important, doing it this way can do more harm than good.

    Now, about the joking, it’s not always a bad thing. I teach suicide awareness and support and we laugh in it quite a bit. But what matters is what we’re laughing and joking about. We’re not joking about suicide itself or people who have suicidal thoughts, but just lighten up some of the heavy topics. Like joking that people don’t think “you know what, I never thought about it but yeah” if asked if they’re having thoughts of suicide. Or that it would be so much easier if people wore clothes the colour of where they are on the mental health continuum (which happened in a video we watched).

  54. Sarah*

    The more people try to talk about mental health in the workplace, the more I realize I should never reveal anything about my mental health whatsoever. It is typically discussed as something like reducing stress. That or preventing suicide. And people are directly or indirectly pressured to share. Well, I have depression and the one time I made the mistake of revealing that information, I was made to go see some person to certify that I was okay to shelve books. I was 16 and putting books on shelves! I never felt entirely comfortable at that job as a result.

    You know what helps me? Employers following the Americans with Disabilities Act and making it easy to go to a therapy appointment in the middle of the day. These activities actually end up being discriminatory against people with mental illnesses. Everyone else can just share something mundane. Anyone with a mental illness is having to hide the fact that they are now feeling incredibly uncomfortable at best and just the right thing to say so this doesn’t end with them being fired. If you say you have a mental illness, a significant chunk of people who hear it will never think of you the same way again. Now, if you go to a weekly appointment, people are going to see it as a burden to the rest of the company rather than just a normal life thing.

    Anyone with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia is going to have this much worse.

    Even when people do this kind of thing in a careful way, it can be harmful. Just today I got an invitation to a meeting about privilege. There was a list of categories, like race, class, age, etc. One item was “physical differences.” There was nothing for any other kind of disability. Let alone a disabled category. You’re supposed to go down each column and indicate your identity in that category, whether it makes things easier or harder, and give examples. And then there is some sort of meeting. This is all well intentioned! These people sincerely want to improve things! But there is no way I was going to write down a category for other disabilities and add stuff about my depression. I’m not even about to put that I have a disability that causes joint instability and that’s why I’m wearing a neck brace all of a sudden. And then show up at a meeting and probably be asked to discuss it! So I am forced to not go and risk looking like I don’t care about equality.

    This is bad enough, but at least this meeting is optional. I have been to so many events about privilege and bias over the years that I could run this meeting, so I wouldn’t even get any useful information.

    The meeting being described here is about 10 times worse. First of all, it isn’t optional. There isn’t even an option to give up an opportunity to participate with coworkers to avoid revealing your disabilities. If I were at this meeting, I would never ever reveal that I have depression because I would know that no one would show any discretion in sharing that information and everyone would decide I was a suicide risk, in addition to the standard discrimination. I would be stressed the whole day and trying to come up with a convincing story. If I were suicidal, this would be even worse.

    Anyone who has ever had a mental illness of any kind is feeling marginalized by the fact that this meeting even exists. It is hard enough having a mental illness in the workplace. But at least if no one discusses it, you can maintain the illusion that no one would think of you any differently.

    These meetings sound like they should be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act! I frankly would recommend talking to HR about whether these meetings could get the company sued. This would be a great way to have recruiting problems. Someone posts a Glassdoor review saying this company was so horrible that working there made someone kill themselves (stories change when they spread far enough) and now there are mandatory meetings where everyone is expected to tell the rest of the company whether they are feeling suicidal. You do not want to be mentioned in a review like that.

    Paradoxically, many of us with mental illnesses feel safest when no one is interested in whether we have a mental illness or not and will be satisfied with “Can I leave early on Wednesdays for an appointment?”

    The meditation one sounds horrible, by the way. The last thing I need is one more person telling me I should just meditate! You know what happens if I try to meditate without antidepressants? I sit there and think about how I’m a failure because I can’t even relax right and why would anyone want me to exist? Anyone with a mental illness is going to take one of two things away from this: one, that people would judge them if they knew that they took medication or, two, no one has even considered that there might be anyone mentally ill in the room.

    To conclude, this is a great way to make sure no one will ever confide in you if they are considering suicide.

  55. Tussy*

    A major pet peeve of mine is “mental health awareness” that doesn’t actually help anything.
    This is amplified by non-trained people or people with no lived experience leading these discussions.

    Especially as it focuses so much on depression and anxiety and general mental health for people without mental illness (meditation? Kay…) which is completely unhelpful and inapplicable to the people who have serious mental illnesses. Awareness that centres on people who don’t have mental illnesses and centres on people with the least amount of stigma (depression and anxiety are tough but not straight out demonised or made fun of) is not enough.

    What happened when the world saw what a manic episode looked like with Kanye West (and in the drag race fandom/community what happened to Robbie Turner when he had a psychotic break and hallucinated a car crash) shows that a lot of people who pay lip service to the importance of mental health don’t really care about people who have more than depression or anxiety.

    I mean, just the amount of people who feel cool saying “psychotic” as a perjorative when that’s medical term for a very serious and terrifying medical symptom of several illnesses (that very rarely causes violence but is demonised by the news media who only focuses on those instances). People who are like “mental health is SO important” and would never make a joke about suicide, have no issue calling people they don’t like schizophrenic and bipolar.

    So YES awareness is important! But expand it out even just a little to mention facts like how mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than perps! Decrease the stigma around all types and not just the easiest ones.

    Anyway, thank you for coming to my Ted Talk, if you want to argue you won’t change my mind and if this has made you want to learn more about these illnesses, I recommend the book “This Will Change Your Mind About Mental Health” by Nathan Filer which is the book that I find does an amazing job of reflecting lived experiences even while being from a practitioners point of view.

    1. Tussy*

      *I say more than depression and anxiety because these are often co-morbid with other mental illnesses. It’s depression and anxiety plus other things for most people.

      1. Tussy*

        *And by easiest ones I mean the ones where there is less work to do decreasing stigma! I don’t want anyone to think I don’t know how tough and definitely not easy depression and anxiety are. I just don’t want them to be the only focus, even if they are the ones that have to take up the most time to discuss because of they are more common and can be aquirable instead of inherited.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Schizophrenic here, very much agreeing with you. The one and only time I admitted to this at work I was treated thereafter as a serious potential danger.

      ‘Schizo’, ‘crazy’, all those kind of terms are insulting. And contrary to a former employer’s opinion doing tai chi and 5 minute mindfulness does Jack all.

    3. ceiswyn*

      Don’t even get me started on the complete lack of anything about eating disorders. Or the way that anything that claims to offer advice and support around eating disorders focuses entirely on anorexia. Because the idea that overeating and fatness may not be purely personal responsibility is somewhere our society just refuses to go.

  56. Ruthie*

    Oh jeez. This kind of conversation led by my would make me very uncomfortable and my stress response is often to smile and laugh. I really can’t fault someone for joking – it make be their stress response. This is so ridiculous.

  57. Medico*

    Ooooh yeah no, this is not something a manager can be handed a list of talking points on to bring up in a meeting. My organisation runs Mental Health First Aid courses alongside First Aid courses, these are run by professional adult educators with deep personal experience in this field and is set up to acknowledge and accommodate the memories and emotions the material brings up. It is explicitly stated that the course is not to turn your colleagues into clinicians but to highlight warning signs, mythbust common misconceptions on mental illnesses and what can be done if something happens in front of you, as well as detailed lists of actual clinicians and resources to go to. It’s not a topic treated lightly but with respect. I really hope you have good luck finding the right path through this, OP

  58. Non non*

    This sounds like it could be an episode of “The Office”! It’s a completely ridiculous thing for a legitimate organization to be doing — having untrained people (I’m envisioning Michael Scott) talking about mental health.

  59. The unnamed commenter*

    LW I fully appreciate that this arrangement is not your choice. But I want to encourage you to push back against the current way of doing this.

    Raising awareness about mental health issues is really important, but weekly discussions of suicide/self harm is too much. Starting all meetings on such a grim topic must be hard for some of your staff, and will affect their focus as you move on to other topics. I also suspect that over exposure means some staff are beginning to shrug off this topic, it’s losing impact. The two together means many staff will look to banter or a dismissive attitude either as a coping mechanism or because they no longer really focus on the topic.

    I also don’t want to be discussing my colleague’s health, including suicidal ideation and attempts. That’s not information I want to have, and encouraging them to share it with me is not helpful for me. Knowing a current colleague is suicidal (present tense) places a huge burden on me. Do I call police if they are late for a meeting when working from home? Do I report random comments that could maybe be a comment about suicide but could also just be normal Office banter? I do not enjoy being in this situation.

    I’d also encourage you to be wary about pushing back too hard on banter when discussing serious topics. Especially ones you continuously revisit. Banter is a common coping mechanism for those who are exposed to critical incidents on a routine basis. Black humour, often highly offensive to those from outside the group, but absolutely essential for those who regularly have to deal with things that are likely to cause a high stress response. From your letter I get the impression that your industry is neutral risk for workplace-linked mental health issues (high risk would be certain child welfare, armed services, emergency services roles etc. I’m not saying that your workplace is not stressful). Some of your staff may however have their own personal history where if I don’t laugh I’ll cry is relevant. Some staff might just be less skilled at compartmentalising these discussions, or blocking an emotional response. You yourself note that you struggle at times to not be emotionally affected by the material. Banter may be how some of your staff cope with the content of your meetings.

  60. Ro*

    I feel awful for the former employee, using him as an example (which OP has stated in the comments he doesn’t know about) is really really bad.

    I think with the jokes maybe there is a disconnect and some employees are using the meeting as the managers intended while others are uncomfortable. I don’t know the nature of the jokes but I would be very uncomfortable having these discussions at work and I can see myself making jokes because that’s how I handle uncomfortable situations. Maybe the joking employees are just jerks I don’t know but it is worth investigating if maybe the meeting is bothering them and they just aren’t dealing with it in the best way (we have had previous letters from employees stating their companies mental health discussions are making them uncomfortable).

    1. Ro*

      Also to add, its entirely possible the self harming former colleague could still talk to some of his former coworkers (or even bump into one at the grocery store) anyone could tell him about the example and then if he is sensible he will be sueing you into oblivion. As can anyone who is being constantly triggered by sessions on mental health run as a requirement of the job by someone not trained in mental health care. It may already be too late for your employer (so so many chances to be sued already even if you stop immediately). But you really need to stop now.

      1. Smh RN*

        Well apparently it’s all fine because the employee has since passed away (there was an update above). I feel like that’s worse personally….

        1. Ro*

          I missed that bit. Yeah its worse (especially if the employee actually died by suicide I don’t know as I can’t find that update).

          I still think if this triggers an employee into worse mental health issues they could presumably blame the company “managers with no training in mental health issues repeatedly dominated meetings with non optional discussions of suicide to the point it exacerbated existing mental health issues” is grounds for a lawsuit (at least in my country but I’m not in the US).

          Side note: Do anyone know the preferred terminology relating to suicide. When I was younger it was “committed suicide” but I understand that is no longer preferred as it puts the blame on the person who died.

  61. James*

    I think an important question is: Why are the employees making jokes? It’s one thing to mock those with mental illness. It’s another entirely to use jokes as humor to diffuse an incredibly uncomfortable situation.

    The thing is, the Powers that Be that decided this policy have no idea what the workers are dealing with. Some people have had mental issues in the past and don’t like to be reminded of them. Others have friends and relatives who have mental issues or who have had them. What this policy is doing is forcing anyone in this situation to relive extremely traumatic incidents over and over again, publicly. The normal response to this is some sort of coping mechanism. Some people walk away and refuse to participate. Some endure it. Some get a little too involved in it. And some joke about it. None of this means they’re not taking it seriously. It all means that the company is inflicting trauma on the workers, or at least aggravating existing trauma.

    I get why the company is doing this. More and more companies are pushing mental health awareness and resources. But this sort of thing does more harm than good.

    I’m also not a fan of starting meetings with a safety topic. This actually came up day before yesterday. I prefer to discuss the work, and either discuss safety issues as they arise during the discussion of the work, or at the end. The work defines the requirements for keeping everyone safe, and a safety topic that’s applicable to an office worker (say, eye strain from looking at computers) may not be applicable to an equipment operator (who shouldn’t be looking at a laptop or tablet anyway) or someone working on a factory floor (same thing).

  62. Philly Redhead*

    Joking about my mental health (diagnosed Major Depressive Disorder and PMDD) is one of my coping mechanisms.

  63. tinybutfierce*

    As someone with a history of mental illness and and past self-harm, if I found out MULTIPLE MANAGERS were using my personal crisis as an at-work discussion topic, I’d be quitting and speaking to a lawyer as soon as possible. As Allison pointed out, this entire situation is inappropriate, but holy crap, I cannot get over that in particular.

  64. TheHotNerd*

    I have been here. I work for the Air Force, and a mental health briefing is an annual requirement. Unfortunately it’s given by my supervisor, an AF Commander. The last two I attended there was joking and minimizing and devaluing. I have Complex PTSD from an abusive relationship, developed suicidal thoughts, and have Trauma. I spoke up in the meeting the first time about the inappropriate attitude. I was condescended to and nothing really changed because the second year it was the same disgusting posturing. And don’t start me on the sexual harassment briefings (also annual, and given by the commander — a man. I was the only woman in the office for over a year). Luckily I am out of this job by the next time this comes around.
    The attitude at these briefings really does start at the top, and I agree that someone more qualified to lead the discussion should be present. Nowadays in the time of Teams and Zoom, I think it’s reasonable to get a mental health professional to offer a few sessions and every employee has to virtually attend one.

  65. Copyright Economist*

    The Government of Canada offers mental health services to all of its employees. If there are group sessions like this, they are moderated by trained facilitators from the Centre for Innovation in Mental Health. I am surprised that Allison didn’t suggest getting trained facilitators to run these sessions.

  66. NoRealNameHere*

    Alison hit it on the money. No, absolutely not, you should not be giving mental health talks unless you’re a mental health professional. If you have an EAP, EAP licensed clinicians can come in and give these types of talks – that does involve money. There are also people who have training to give suicide prevention talks, this is something that can be done by a trained professional. Their training is specialized, they charge for it.

    Is your company willing to spend actual money for this, or does it do these talks to check a box that makes it sound good while doing nothing, or worse, doing harm? Does your company even have an EAP? Does your company have robust health insurance that covers mental health services well? Please don’t allow them to pay meaningless lip service to mental health if they do nothing to actually help support mental health. Even if they do other things to support mental health, this is really not it. Signed, mental health professional.

  67. Delphine*

    We need some sort of movement to get our employers out of every facet of our lives. Bring back boundaries, for pete’s sake.

  68. PersephoneUnderground*

    Ugggh- this is pretty much a recipe for a really uncomfortable and possibly counterproductive discussion. It’s so common too, because it *feels* like doing something productive when it isn’t. “Here’s a sensitive and important topic you probably know very little about or have tons of common misconceptions about, but we’ve now had a 10 minute presentation on. Discuss!” Even well-meaning people in that sort of setup aren’t going to get anywhere much, and it can go all sorts of uncomfortable places quickly.

    Kind of like High Schoolers attempting to discuss the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (yes, this is a specific memory of a total waste of time class discussion I had in high school). It just… isn’t useful, and the discussion has to be managed actively by an expert to be anything but people spouting things that sound vaguely right to them.

    Since it’s mental health, add the part where only people who are unaffected or only mildly effected are going to be likely to speak up, or anyone effected has to out themselves to give their perspective, and it’s just allllll the nope. Lots of “well, I get so stressed sometimes but feel better with yoga and a cup of tea”!

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