MH VS HR : Mental Health in the Non-Profit Sector

The May flowers have bloomed and the month went by so fast!

Did you know that May is also known as Mental Health Awareness Month? Mental Health refers to psychological, social and emotional well-being.. For the past decade or so, there has been an increase in recognition that we must talk about the serious ways mental health intersects with our working and personal lives. In the nonprofit sector, workers are often passionate about helping the communities they serve, making them especially vulnerable to overwork, burnout and other mental health issues. 

Inspired by other publications on the topic, we decided to suggest a few ideas on ways to look after and care for staff’s mental health. 


Create a space dedicated to self-care 

While some workplaces now operate in a hybrid or work-from-home format, for many workers in the non-profit sector, most of the work is done from an office. Offices have a tendency to be rigid and non-engaging spaces for the staff who use them. For this reason, one suggestion is to create a space where employees can take care of themselves. Ideally, this would be a space with windows and comfortable seating where staff can come to journal, meditate, pray, or read a book. Allowing for this kind of space to exist in the workplace may help workers feel like they are allowed to practice self-care in an environment that is not usually associated with mental health.

Offer a mental health or wellness fund 

This is not a hard rule, but some not-for-profits do not offer health insurance plans to their workers. If your workplace does have one, you may be able to receive some kind of psychological support under your insurance plan. However, in many cases, insurance plans cover few psychological services or have specific conditions, making it difficult to access the right kind of treatment. One way of working around this is to offer a broad mental health or wellness fund to staff members. This is a fund available to workers to use on treatment that may not be covered by an insurer such as acupuncture, massages, spiritual counseling, therapy, or other services. 

Provide employees with reliable info delivered by licensed professionals 

Mental health issues are quite complex and unique to each individual. We may all have our own experiences with mental health, but that does not make us experts!. Therefore, one efficient way of supporting non-profit staff when it comes to their mental health is to provide them with information delivered by licensed professionals. For example, participating in a workshop on burnout or depression facilitated by a licensed therapist might be just what your team is in need of. 

Normalize It

Since 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s safe to say that it is now much easier to talk about sickness and how it prevents us from working efficiently. It’s not uncommon to hear a coworker announce they will be staying home to nurse a cold or a migraine. But what about mental health related issues? It is a lot less likely to hear someone say they need a day off to take care of their anxiety, or to be open about taking time off to address their mental health. One way we can work on reducing the stigma surrounding mental health is by talking more openly about it. An easy way to introduce these conversations into the workplace is by showing that our workplaces see mental health as being just as important as physical health. For example, defining clearly what is considered “sick time” can help unblur the lines. The example below shows one way to include mental health in workplace sick policies. 

Sick days are paid time off that are available for staff members who find themselves in the following situations: 

  • i. A short term illness, injury, accident, or emergency 
  • ii. Chronic or recurring illness situations 
  • iii. Emergency or urgent visits to a clinic, hospital, or doctor 
  • iv. Planned medical appointments where work cannot be rearranged or made-up 
  • v. A short term mental or psychological stress requiring time away from work
  • vi. Positive health requirements (for example: gender affirming surgery, pregnancy related appointments, etc). 
  • vii. Structural stresses (oppression resulting from racism, misogyny, transphobia, etc.)

Live From the COCoVerse 

Here at COCo, we work every day on developing new ways of supporting our staff’s mental health. One specific resource that has become available more often is specific psychological support following more emotionally heavy days. For example, on days where conversations are expected to dredge up a lot of feelings, COCo calls on to a counselor. This person will then hold several open time slots after the meeting where people can go and talk to this support person if they wish to. 

These tips only cover a few of a myriad of ways our workplaces can be better adjusted for our mental health needs. A simple conversation with your team is an excellent place to start! Keep an eye out on our next series of workshops, Ateliers/C, which cover an array of topics related wellness in the workplace.