Office Hours: Mental Wellness at Work

by Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof®

This column was first published in the Reading Eagle on June 27, 2023.

First, how readers experimented with “How are you… really?” Then, today’s lesson on mental wellness.

How are you really? ProfPoll

I asked readers to have this conversation with a coworker:

Person No. 1:  How are you?

Person No. 2:  Fine/great and you? (typical response)

Person No. 1:  No, really, how are you?

Person No. 2:  Their response?


Two readers actually initiated the conversation. Awesome!  Here’s what they said the other person’s reaction was:

“Wow! Thanks for caring and listening.”

“They opened up. They shared about the struggles outside of work. The issues that make work possible.”

Then, I asked if this built a stronger connection between them and the other person. For those who said it did, they described the connection in this way:

“It felt more personal. She offered more than ‘great.’ She said ‘I had a good weekend because….’”

“We are able to talk more openly, we are getting to understand each other’s ‘attitudes’ and the possibility of grudges lessen because we understand [how] our outside of work lives really are.”

I appreciate readers’ participation — thanks!  Now, today’s lesson.

Mental Wellness

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), mental wellness describes “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” In other words, mental wellness is more than surviving, but thriving in today’s world.

In the U.S., we often resort to creating campaigns to raise awareness and educate. May was Mental Health Awareness Month, championed by Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association) and ratified by the US Congress in 1949. It was in response to “an increased number of veterans suffering from mental illnesses after returning from World War II,” according to

That was 74 years ago. I don’t think it’s working. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 1 in 5 Americans experienced mental illnesses in 2021, with disproportionate rates for many minority groups, especially, Native Americans, multi-racial Americans and lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans. For that same year, about 46% of American workers said they were “struggling with mental health issues,” according to CNBC.

Even more sobering, age-adjusted suicide rates increased from 10.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2001, to 14.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021. Suicide is the No. 1 cause of death among 15-24 year olds (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

Why, in a developed country, are we dealing with such a dire situation? One reason, says the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is “more than half of people with mental illnesses don’t receive help for their disorders.” And, why is that? Stigma, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. The stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination give rise to public and institutional stigma, which creates a culture for self-stigma to evolve.

Here’s what happens. Ignorance and bigotry create fear around mental health and mental illness. That fear, at its worst, stokes stereotypes in society which become embedded and embodied in institutions, like the workplace. To avoid ridicule, shame and discrimination, people with mental illness remain “closeted” about their disease and don’t seek help. If you don’t get help, you can’t get better. Refer to this chart for a more thorough explanation. It provides helpful examples of public, self and institutional stigma, as well as stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination.

Quick example: A person who becomes anxious in groups (i.e. suffering with PTSD) may avoid interaction with colleagues, not come to work or in the extreme, quit because they don’t seek or receive the support they need to manage their illness.

What can we do?

Each of us is responsible for making a difference. We can break-down the unhealthy elements that thwart people with mental illnesses from getting the help they need.

Here are three steps:

First, acknowledge that mental illnesses are:

• as real as physical illnesses
• treatable or curable
• no one’s fault

Second, cultivate your own mental wealth. If mental wellness is our ability to thrive in life, mental wealth is the perpetual stockpile or depository of “mindsets, practices, technology, and habits” that we draw from to sustain our mental health (Mindcure). How do we get the inventory? By doing the work to know what we need on a regular basis to be mentally well. Some need to develop strategies that balance work and family; others need regular talk-therapy check-ins; still others, physical activity that infuses positive mental energy. Whatever it is, we need to get it and keep re-stocking it!

Finally, contribute to a work culture where it is safe to talk about mental illnesses but be thoughtful in how you talk. In my November, 2020 podcast Office Hours with The Practical Prof, I interviewed Harold A. Maio, a mental health advocate and former mental health editor, about how careful word choice can minimize the harm caused to people with mental illnesses. Three takeaways are:

• use person-centered language and be specific when you can:  “He has schizophrenia” or  “people with bipolar disorder” or “people with mental illnesses”

• instead of talking about “stigma” which further victimizes, talk about prejudice and discrimination, which can be “addressed or redressed”

• avoid recounting the “myths” and what’s not true, “educate to truths”

(Full Interview:

Be well and be wealthy… mentally!

Next Column:  It’s OK to say NO!

Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof, is a professor emeritus of management at Moravian University and hosts the podcast “Office Hours with The Practical Prof … and Friends.” His latest book, “The Lessons of Caring” is written to inspire and support caregivers (available in paperback and eBook). Website:; Twitter: @PracticalProf; Facebook: ThePracticalProf.


Defining Mental Wellness

Establishment of Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Statistics 2021

Harold Maio Language to Lessen Stigma

CNBC Workers with Mental Illnesses

Suicide Rates

Stigma, Stereotypes/Prejudice and Discrimination

Youth Suicide Rates

Mental Wealth