By Craig Booker
February 29, 2024

Brain health conversations

Learn why we feel so uncomfortable with brain health conversations in the workplace and how to overcome that.

Have you ever sensed that a coworker was eager to share something with you? I’m not talking about work stuff like details about a big project, gossip about a coworker, or that you need to do something specific for a presentation. I’m talking about personal stuff you would only tell a close friend. We discuss physical health topics at work, like our diet or the new CrossFit gym we joined recently, but not brain health. 

So why do we feel so uncomfortable with brain health conversations in the workplace?

One word… FEAR.

Reasons we avoid brain health conversations

Isn’t it ironic that the emotion that keeps us from caring for a coworker is central to many brain health challenges?

If we are the person sharing, the top concern we have in talking about our brain health struggles is how others might treat us. We fear our boss will find out, and we’ll be mistreated, seen as weak, passed over for a promotion, or possibly even fired. We might be concerned others might use it against us. Many fear that negative labels will follow them.

On the other hand, if we are the person on the receiving end of the conversation, we fear other aspects of these conversations. We are terrified of what to say in response to a coworker spilling their guts over topics like anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation. We fear something we say might cause undue harm or push the person over the edge. We might feel incompetent not knowing how to hold such a conversation. We might fear saying something wrong and getting written up, publicly reprimanded, or, even worse, fired.

So what can we do?

Executives, entrepreneurs, and employers

There seem to be many things we cannot say or do in business. It is easy to feel like employers’ hands are tied when addressing personal health issues in the workplace. The fear of a company being tarnished by scandals and lawsuits is enough to paralyze the best of leaders. Many small businesses struggle to keep their heads above water with rising costs, hiring challenges, and the quickly changing business landscape. How can entrepreneurs create a safe environment for employees to bring their authentic selves to work each day?

While I am not here to give legal advice or a play-by-play of what businesses can or should do, here are some things employers can do. First, as a leader, you must make brain health part of your daily conversation and life. Leaders must learn to show compassion and empathy while advocating for the well-being of their team and the community around them. This is not merely a program Human Resources rolls out during mental health awareness month; it’s a way of life.

Practical methods

Besides leaders living this out, there are practical ways to incorporate well-being. The leadership team can hold free webinars or lunch-and-learn sessions where they provide insightful discussions on various topics surrounding brain health. Bringing in experts to these discussions is a great way to educate, increase credibility, and add value. In each session and within the office, highlight resources available from the organization, in the community, and online.

Something simple but incredibly practical is to have a list of names and numbers that leaders and team members can call for help without raising any questions. Set up a team policy that allows employees to receive a designated number of sessions with a counselor from a few specific local providers at no charge. This enables the organization to negotiate rates and gives the team an accessible tool should they need it. One of the most helpful things an employer can do is to equip their team with the resources should they need them.

Employees, coworkers, and teammates

With all the time spent with coworkers, we must learn to look out for those struggling with brain health or other challenges. Still, knowing what is acceptable to talk about in the workplace can be challenging. Many fear saying something that might hurt the other person or not knowing how to get the other person the help they need. Thinking about it can get a little overwhelming.

Perhaps the number one myth most workers believe is that they are not qualified to help. You don’t have to have everything figured out. Many people fear discussions about brain health because they feel like they do not know enough. The reality is that people experiencing anxiety, depression, or despair do not want to be fixed.

Below are two things one can do to support a struggling teammate.

1. Be Willing to Listen Empathetically: When someone provides a safe place to share feelings, people experiencing brain health challenges emotionally exhale everything they have kept inside. It is the equivalent of holding your breath for an extended period and then letting it all out. Providing a safe space for someone in despair allows the person to process what they have been feeling safely. It is practicing empathetic listening. 

It is not about having a psychology degree or being a medical doctor.

Let me be clear: this is not providing therapy or a replacement for getting them the help they may need.

2. Be Willing to Connect Them With Resources: One of the scariest things about being on the receiving end of a brain health conversation is feeling like you are in over your head. Advocating for the well-being of your colleague is not about having all of the answers. It is being willing to listen and help connect them with resources. It also means being willing to follow up with the coworker later.

Where to go from here

If this is new to you, it is easy to feel like this is too much. As entrepreneurs and executives, you already have more than enough on your plate. As a working professional, you might already feel overwhelmed with the tasks given to you. I would never encourage you to take on these conversations if you are not in a healthy place yourself. 

Practice self-care. If you are not in a place to help someone, please do not feel pressured into doing so. If you see someone struggling, tell someone who can check in on them.

What I would say is that our team, coworkers, and community need us to step up. There has never been a time when the need has been greater. People in the workplace and our communities need to look out for one another. Start with one idea or one tip to make your workplace a kinder place to be each day.

Subscribe to Email Updates


Get Edmond Business news in your inbox.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

About Craig Booker

Craig Booker is the founder of Overflow, a community for anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. He is a freelance writer and mental health advocate. Craig is an Edmond native with a bachelor's degree in Business Management from the University of Central Oklahoma. He is passionate about creating a safe space where people can be authentic, knowing they will find love, acceptance, and encouragement. Craig hosts a weekly podcast called, The Overflow Podcast," where he talks about mental health and personal growth. In each episode, Craig shares practical ways to positively impact mental health.