Mental Health Awareness Month reminds us to prioritize mental well-being, challenge stigma, practice self-reflection, and encourage open conversations. At BenchSci, we embraced this month as an opportunity to spark dialogue and share resources through our internal Slack channel dedicated to mental health. Additionally, we hosted a panel discussion for BenchSciers, “Mind Your Mind: Open Conversations for a Mentally Strong Workplace.”

The panel was an opportunity to hear from a wide range of experts and gain tangible insights into how we can prioritize our mental health while also demonstrating care and empathy toward each other. We were fortunate to sit down with three leaders who advocate for mental health and support those in need through various methods. The discussion focused on three key themes: (1) understanding the relationship between mental health and work, (2) cultivating a supportive and open team environment, and (3) practical tools and resources for managing mental health.

Our panel featured: 

We started the discussion by emphasizing the importance of advocating for mental health awareness and support in the workplace. Fernando, who has been a champion of this since joining BenchSci founded our #chatter-mental-health Slack channel, which more than 40% of our company has since joined. He’s fostered a community that provides resources and ongoing support to our broader team. When asked why he dedicates time to leading this initiative, Fernando reminded us that mental health is health. 

“We need to break the stigma around talking about mental health because mental health is just as important as physical health." 

All of our panelists agreed that our mental health is a significant factor in how individuals are able to show up and perform at work, and as a result, speaking about mental health in the workplace should be a two-way conversation amongst managers, leaders, and peers. 

Like many organizations, many BenchSciers would consider themselves to be high-achievers, so naturally, the conversation evolved to examine some of the unique mental and emotional challenges that arise in high-performance environments. Kim, who’s worked with many athletes, founders, and executives offered her perspective, noting that while this group is very good at success, they struggle with what they perceive as failures. This is, in large part, due to the high expectations and standards they’ve set for themselves, and while this can be positive, it also can have negative consequences. She reminded us that some of the challenges they struggle with are knowing when to step back, give up control, and let others come in to support them.

“That perfectionism, and hunger to be more can foster shame, criticism,  and self-doubt,  doubt when mistakes inevitably happen.”

So, how can we cope with these feelings? From Kim’s perspective, self-compassion is instrumental. It’s about being able to accept that you’re a normal person dealing with abnormal pressure. While Kim’s response may seem simple, many of us neglect it when it comes to how we treat ourselves. Practicing self-compassion is about choosing to be kind to yourself, connecting with the commonality of being human, and practicing acceptance of all aspects of yourself those you are proud of and those that feel challenging.

In the workplace, team dynamics and interpersonal relationships play a notable role in a team or company’s ability to move quickly and drive impact. So, it was important that we spent time speaking about some of the common pitfalls that can contribute to negative team dynamics, which ultimately can be harmful to an individual’s mental health, and how we can try to avoid these. Kari, who’s worked with hundreds of BenchSciers over the last five years, took this opportunity to reframe this question. She reminded us that throughout her conversations with BenchSciers at all levels, she overwhelmingly hears that people are drawn to and stay at BenchSci for the people. 

KS: Many of us tend to focus on how we can improve in the negative. So, before answering the question, I want to acknowledge that I hear overwhelmingly at BenchSci that the reason that people are drawn to and stay at BenchSci, is for the people. It’s a powerful driving force, especially at BenchSci.

“Work is a system that we get to opt into. It’s a community or culture that in the best of circumstances, we’re choosing to be a part of.”

Additionally, Kari shared tangible things people can focus on to contribute to healthy team dynamics and working relationships, including: 

  • Assume positive intent when interacting with team members. This can help avoid roadblocks and bumps in team formation.
  • When we play for the team, we do better than when we play for ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we’re not standing up for ourselves, but working together often leads to better outcomes and innovation.
  • Avoiding politics. Leverage a coach or outside party to act as a pressure relief valve for when you need to vent, but it’s important to bring that feedback back into the organization with intention, respect, and courage so change can happen.
  • Seek to understand. All of us have had unique journeys that led us to where we are. When we take a moment to understand the human being behind the conflict, decision, or change, and recognize our different experiences, that’s when we get to create something special together. 

Building off of this, Kari also shared some tips for recognizing signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety, and burnout in yourself and others. She emphasized that while this is extremely personal and can look different for everyone, taking the time to recognize your own early signs is critical. In Kari’s blog post, Overcoming the Gremlins of Burnout, there is a burnout assessment that highlights some of the common things that people experience at different stages of burnout. This can help you understand some of your own patterns. She also suggests an energy audit to understand where your enthusiasm is moving and how it’s changing over time. Lastly, Kari suggests paying close attention to changes in your sleep, your interest in activities you enjoy, or if you find yourself dwelling on the same thoughts repeatedly. These subtle shifts can be signals to check in with yourself and consider whether there are areas in your life that need adjustment.

“The key is to figure out your own early warning signs and what good health feels like for you. It's a lifelong journey.”

Fernando added that, personally, he’s found success in managing stress and anxiety in the workplace by knowing he can rely on someone, whether it be a friend, family member, colleague, or mentor. 

As we wrapped this discussion, Kim closed the conversation by reminding us it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to need help. 

“The fact that you’re already thinking that you need help is a sign of your resilience. It means you’re able to take that step to acknowledge that you’re not okay. Recognizing the fear of asking for help is okay. You’re trying something new, which can be uncomfortable, especially if you’ll be sharing something particularly vulnerable. “

It was a pleasure sitting down with our three panelists, and it serves as a powerful reminder that prioritizing mental health is essential for both individual and collective well-being. It highlighted the interconnected nature of our personal experiences and our work lives, emphasizing the need for supportive work environments that promote open communication and prioritize mental health. At BenchSci, we will continue to foster these important conversations and create a culture that prioritizes mental health.

Written By:
Diane Bell (She/Her)

Culture Wellness DEI