Mental health at work: how do you break the taboo?

Never before have so many people been suffering from feelings of depression and anxiety. This also has knock-on effects at work. To reduce the need for staff to take time off, Boudewijn D’Hauwers, Prevention Advisor on Psychosocial Issues, sees two ways forward: breaking the taboo around mental health and helping to build employees’ resilience.

“Fortunately, the barrier to seeking help has already been lowered”, Boudewijn begins. “Not only is psychological help more accessible, but there is also a greater focus on mental health. For example, we now have things like World Mental Health Day (Dutch version only) and the Flemish film Everybody Happy. These sorts of initiatives make it easier for people to talk about their issues.”

The importance of resilience

Yet employees are increasingly absent from work as a result of burnout and stress. A key factor in staying on top of these maladies is resilience, or the extent to which someone can cope with stress and setbacks.

Boudewijn: “People who have high levels of resilience continue to function well in difficult circumstances and adapt successfully. But stress can pile up in those who are less resilient. Resilience is something that we develop in childhood. In addition, a person’s social support network, physical wellbeing and insights into his or her problems are factors that make it easier or more difficult to ‘bounce back’.”

Good news: you can train yourself to be more resilient

Resilience is not a static concept: it can vary at different points in time. Moreover, it is something that you can learn. “Employers can certainly help their staff with this”, Boudewijn says. “Increasing resilience is all about approaching life differently, learning to think differently. For example, a workshop to help you build up resilience or a visit to an occupational psychologist can contribute.”

“As well working on their staff’s resilience, employers can of course also tackle their workload, or at least take a closer look at it. How heavy is the workload at the company? How high does the company set the bar? Are people’s schedules too full? Is it possible to redistribute their work?”

Are you already familiar with Fit in je Hoofd, Goed in je Vel  (Fit in your mind, comfortable with who you are? This campaign by the Flemish government offers 10 tips on training yourself to be resilient, and it is a great way to shine a light on mental health in your organisation (Dutch version only).

The taboo surrounding mental health

You can only help staff to build their resilience if there is an open, positive working environment. “More and more companies are raising awareness among managers and informing them by means of a First Aid for Mental Health Problems training session, for example. The training teaches them how to identify early signs of emerging mental health issues. They also practice conversation techniques to provide a listening ear and, if necessary, refer the person to professional help. 

Engaging more in communication around mental health also helps to remove the taboo surrounding the subject: campaigns, road shows, an internal magazine, a testimony from a colleague, a short monthly meeting, etc. Every little bit helps.”

Discover how an approach involving First Aid for Mental Health issues helps prevent avoidable absenteeism in your organisation.‚Äč

How resilient is your organisation?

Do you have concrete questions about mental health at work? Our experts can help. Together we can devise a customised prevention plan to keep your employees energetic, motivated and in balance. Contact us at

Read all blog posts about “mentally fit”.