Mental Health in the Workplace

Trends / Wellness
The Good Brigade
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Dec 7, 2021
After a tough two years, it’s no surprise that workers across industries are re‑evaluating what’s important to them and prioritizing happiness. Our Visual GPS research revealed that the most significant shift in sentiment in the wake of the pandemic is that people now value their mental health more, and 65% feel that companies should be more supportive of employee wellbeing. It is becoming less taboo to talk about mental health at work, and in fact, it is becoming expected: a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 76% of Americans on the job market are looking for employers that offer mental health benefits.1 At Getty Images, our customers have responded to this cultural shift, and over the past year we’ve seen a +156% increase in popular visuals depicting mental health topics, with searches rising for “mental health” alongside “employee appreciation.”

Historically, popular visuals have focused on mental health problems and cliched scenarios such as a person with their head in their hands or huddled in a corner, or reductive symbols such as a brain. That’s why we collaborated with Mind Share Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to workplace mental health, to create guidelines for visualizing this sensitive issue in a way that is authentic, respectful, and inclusive. Visuals have a powerful role to play when it comes to fostering a supportive workplace culture, because the right visuals can help de‑stigmatize mental health issues, reshape our understanding of how and when to seek help, and communicate mental health policies to workers. For companies and media outlets looking to picture mental health at work, here are three insights to keep in mind.
Evolving workplaces, new challenges
Most American office workers are or will be returning to flexible or hybrid work models, and while 40% said they would consider quitting if asked to return to the office full time,2 the new era of remote work comes with its own nuanced set of mental health challenges. While employees appreciate the newfound work/life balance that technology allows, new problems arise, such as spending too much time connected to work, feeling socially isolated when not at the office, or, especially for early‑career and new employees, feeling disconnected or unsure of how to do their job.3 To encourage healthy practices, show workers connecting with colleagues via video chat and taking breaks from digital devices; socializing in the physical office and taking breaks in wellness or yoga rooms; tending to caretaking duties at home and taking extra time for oneself.

Outside of offices, “essential” professions that require in‑person work, such as healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, retail, hospitality, are at the forefront of The Great Resignation, citing concerns over physical safety in addition to burnout. For example, 60% of healthcare workers say the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health, but just 13% accessed mental health services.4 In response, hospitals are establishing mental health resources for healthcare workers such as mediation rooms, massage chairs,5 and mental health "rounds," as well as initiatives to collect feedback and suggestions to address systemic issues.6 To visually acknowledge and encourage mental health for those who endured the most stress during the pandemic, show essential workers in physically safe environments, in addition to taking breaks, decompressing alone, or checking in with colleagues.
Proactive strategies to support mental health
Choosing images that show mental health as a problem has historically led to stereotypes such as the classic office‑worker‑clutching‑their‑head—but highlighting the ways that people address mental health can not only be more authentic, but more proactive and inspiring, too. In 2019’s popular visuals, there were plenty of visuals showing more authentic, solution‑oriented mental health visuals, including therapy sessions, yoga, and mindfulness. But this year, we also began to see more popular visuals showing people tending to their mental health in less clinical, more everyday settings, both at home and at work.

Research from Mind Share Partners found that even when employers increased their benefits, the mental health resources that employees actually used the most involved day‑to‑day support, such as extended or more frequent breaks, adjustments to the way that communications happen, or taking time for therapy during the workday. In a world of meditation apps and remote therapy, people are finding ways to tend to their mental health more regularly and casually, so visuals that reflect this will resonate, hopefully for a long time to come.
An inclusive workplace is a supportive workplace
Social inequality can have a profound impact on mental health, but popular mental health visuals tend to center cisgender, heterosexual white people without disabilities, and to show women caring for themselves emotionally far more often than men. Our Visual GPS research found that 66% of Americans experience bias for some aspect of their identity, and 45% experience bias for multiple aspects of their identity—whether that’s race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, body type, or any combination. Age is an important factor to consider in the workplace, too, as older generations are more likely to be concerned about physical Covid safety at work, while younger generations are more likely to worry about being perceived as inexperienced or incapable. This indicates that for a workplace to feel supportive, it must feel safe and inclusive for everyone, especially groups that have been previously underrepresented in mental health visuals.
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