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Exploring the intersection of DEI and mental health in the workplace

Chandini Mokthar
September 15, 2023
Exploring the intersection of DEI and mental health in the workplace

Did you know that in a number of countries around the world, May is Mental Health Awareness Month? Employers have a crucial opportunity to advocate for improved mental health for any and all individuals. In the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), we must, in actuality, consider mental health all year long. Mental health is a DEI concern for a number of reasons.

How are Diversity and Mental Health Interrelated?

Putting together a sustainable mental health strategy is necessary to achieve a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Why? This is because mental health is intrinsically connected to a person's sense of identity, affiliation, and self-esteem. And when a person's identity — sex, ethnicity, race, or incapacity — is challenged, abused, exploited, or employed to disqualify them, their mental health is undoubtedly affected.

Additionally, mental health issues can affect all of us, though not in an identical manner. Its effects may be amplified in minority groups. African Americans, for instance, are 20% more likely to say they have experienced physiological distress but are 50% less inclined to seek medical attention.

Correspondingly, the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionate impact on female and adolescent care providers, causing 78% of them to abandon the workforce entirely in order to take care of others. Such neglected psychological needs can heavily influence an employee's efficacy at work and must be viewed from a DEI lens.

4 Reasons Why Mental Health is a DEI Challenge

Those already underrepresented in the workplace typically experience mental health in a different way. There is more stigma around open conversations if you are not speaking from a position of privilege. Minority identities can influence mental health, and company culture can impact the mental health of these groups. 

Let us explore these intersections in more detail:


1. Empowering workers from minority backgrounds to be heard

Frequently, it is difficult for individuals with mental illness to disclose this information to their company or supervisor, and request accommodations. The mental health stigma continues to persist. In some cultures across the globe, the topic is basically not discussed. Educating managers to help each employee across the spectrum of DEI and to navigate these dialogues should be a top priority.

2. Creating safe spaces for minority identities

As reported by the World Health Organization, the overall prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the initial year of the pandemic. Women, adolescents, and those with preexisting physical ailments were especially susceptible.

We also know that minority groups whose identities are socially stigmatized have mental health consequences. They are more vulnerable to prejudice, social isolation, intimidation, and physical abuse, all of which have detrimental effects on their mental health.

3. Building a culture that makes mental health a DEI priority

A commitment to an inclusive culture implies that each and every employee has a chance to receive the necessary peer, leadership, and healthcare professional assistance. It also involves making sure that all these support systems can meet the specific requirements of those who are frequently marginalized or are a minority inside your organization. Honesty and empathy at work are correlated to employee engagement and well-being.

Consequently, supporting and enabling employees to express their identities and recognize and respect their unique personalities benefits both mental health and the culture of an organization.

4. Being inclusive of those living with mental health challenges

Individuals who suffer from mental disorders frequently encounter discrimination and entry barriers. It may include a dearth of workplace accommodations, negative opinions and preconceptions, as well as poor access to psychological care. By prioritizing mental health in DEI programs, organizations can try to remove these obstacles and build more inclusive environments.

How to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace to Better Support DEI

Here are a few suggestions for establishing an inclusive and diverse work environment with keen attention to psychological health:

  • Examine the employee benefits you offer in greater depth. 13% of individuals who weren't provided with necessary mental health care, said it was because they were unable to locate a practitioner who was a suitable cultural match. 
  • Consider hiring healthcare providers from different cultural backgrounds who can empathize with, and assist minority employees more effectively.
  • Maintain a pulse on team morale across various demographics by closely monitoring engagement. Has a recent alteration impacted your culture? How does it influence employees from various backgrounds? You can perpetually monitor your company's culture using a survey tool.
  • Train your administrators. Managers are liable to be the initial point of contact for individuals who wish to express distress during a crisis.
  • You must be ready to follow up on employee wellness surveys with pertinent questions while respecting their privacy.

Key Takeaways

Supporting DEI entails psychological and mental health care — there is no way around it. Organizations must provide employees with the necessary resources for success. But providing mental health treatment that's efficient, approachable, and culturally appropriate is just the beginning. The leadership must be educated and entrusted with the authority to react properly to DEI or mental health challenges, as well as their interconnections.

Chandini Mokthar
Chandini Mokthar
VP, People & Culture
Chandini Mokhtar is the VP- People & Culture of Moolya and plays a pivotal role in defining Moolya’s overall culture and value. As a true People leader, she is highly focussed on elevating culture and helping organisations to navigate the cultural transformation. Chandini has been a talent acquisition specialist, talent specialist, and a talent acquisition consultant with extensive experience in the domain of defining people culture and ensuring a positive work environment. In a constantly changing environment, she creates an agile employee experience and keeps her team flexible enough to accommodate any changes.
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