Why is this? What makes the work environment in the United States conducive to violence? What are the extenuating circumstances that precipitate an environment where individuals feel mass shooting is the best solution for their problems? Below is a sobering infographic from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) that notes of all the workplace shootings in 2010, 17 percent of those took place in a governmental institution. Though we are now eight years down the road, the breakdown by industry of shootings has not shifted that much from 2010, based upon other BLS reporting.

Workplace homicides due to shootings, by industry, 2010

The point of this post isn’t to talk about workplace shootings and violence but rather to discuss mental health in the workplace and to explore what measures we can take both as employees and employers to avoid these extreme incidents, which are often the concluding chapter in a battle with mental illness.Let’s start with the fact that in many cases employees will lie about the reason they give for taking time off if it is related to mental reasons rather than physical ones. Conversely, managers are more likely to accept and approve physical illness as a reason to miss work than a mental one. Research by the UK-based mental health research charity Time-To-Changeindicates, “95 percent of employees suffering from stress lied about the reason for their absence.” This statistic holds true in the US as well.The result of this finding would indicate that employers are unaware of how the workplace environment is affecting individual employee’s mental health and are therefore unable to make reasonable adjustments that could better accommodate employees suffering from a mental health issue to successfully participate at work while managing their mental health issues.Based on research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, and other mental health institutions, here is some practical advice for employees and employers.


We are all human and as humans we do not like to express things that may paint us as weak, different or less than. Honestly, no one likes to admit they are fallible in any way, however, if you are grappling with a mental health issue that significantly impacts your ability to perform your job, severely compromises your ability to cope with things that are categorized as typical life responsibilities (i.e. workplace interactions and communication, personal hygiene, managing stress, juggling work and home life, etc.) you should disclose this to your employer. If your employer doesn’t know what is going on with you, they will not be able to support you. It is important to note that in most cases you are only obligated to disclose your health status if it could pose a safety issue or prevents you from being able to fulfill the requirements of your job as described above. But if you feel as though extra support out of work is also needed, you could look into support such as mental health supported living which gives individuals a tailored supportive approach, whether that’s helping with essential skills like cleaning, or building confidence and self-esteem. It can be stressful to tell your employee what is going on, but help is available to get you through it.

As mentioned, disclosure can be difficult, so prior to the conversation with your supervisor, practice. Go to a trusted friend or family member and debrief what you want to discuss. Once you disclose your status to your supervisor(s), be clear in communicating exactly what you need (i.e. I need to take Thursday mornings at 10:00 am off for the next six weeks to meet with my specialist). The more specificity you provide, the easier it will be for your employer to support you and to advise you of other resources available.


Pay attention to your employees, especially if you observe marked changes in behavior – mood, lateness, disheveled appearance, reduced performance quality and ask if everything is okay. Many times, supervisors are reluctant to ask questions fearing they are overstepping boundaries. As a manager, I understand there exists a fine line between concern and intrusion, but in truth, there is nothing wrong with checking in with an employee. Yet it’s only natural that you yourself might feel uncomfortable, or maybe you don’t know the best way to ask, and that’s ok. We all have questions, and we all have to learn. If you have questions then you can find out more information from LifeWorks, as they might be able to help you, and in turn help your employees.

Demonstrate you care and get involved early. By stepping in early you may prevent the behavior change(s) from negatively impacting the office environment and drawing further attention to specific employees. For anyone dealing with any mental health issues, it is important to consider their safety at work too. With this being said, every member of staff should receive some sort of training in the workplace. For individuals who work in high risk jobs, be sure to view site for more information on the relevant training. Everyone should stay safe, especially in their workplace,.

De-stigmatize mental health issues by making it familiar. Bring it up at staff meetings, include it in employee newsletters, talk about it with occupational health and safety teams. Offer resources to employees, refer them to employee assistance programs, or a trained HR professional.

If an employee has the courage to disclose an illness, listen and ask, “What do you need?” Be mindful that disclosure is a huge and often very difficult step for a person to take. Assure employees that they are a valued member of the team and that you will support them on the next steps.

If you have given every chance for an employee to open up about mental health, but their behavior is still negatively impacting the workplace, including performance quality and lateness, it can be incredibly frustrating and other action needs to be taken. Instead of mental health, there may be another issue that is causing such behavior. Often, drug abuse can cause a change in behavior, and it may be useful for you to introduce drug testing to your employees if you haven’t already. Otherwise, it may be time to sit your employee down and let them know how their behavior is negatively impacting their performance.

Mental health is only a taboo subject because we (society) make it that way. Familiarity with something breeds tolerance and understanding. It is the responsibility of both employees and employers to create an environment where discussing mental health, resilience and mindfulness is encouraged and supported and where awareness of the resources and support systems available is common knowledge to everyone.

Lia Miller is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.