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ATD Blog

Psychological Safety for Mental-Health Training

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

April was Stress Awareness Month, and the workforce couldn’t be more vulnerable.

We’re facing another disruptive transition that will compound the stress of our day-to-day lives. Just as the onset of the pandemic caused what some call a mental health pandemic, the transition back will trigger new stressors for most of us.

Given the circumstances, it feels trite to say that mental-health training matters. New research, however, shows a glaring lack of awareness still plagues our workplaces.

Vyond partnered with True Global Intelligence to better understand the problems facing today’s employees. Our first survey was conducted in February 2020, followed by subsequent tracking throughout our first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the findings in our full report, we found that 44 percent of employees do not feel their company is committed to their employees’ mental health, and 40 percent of millennials say mental health isn’t taken seriously.

To rise to the occasion of workplace wellness, employers need to provide more mental health training in addition to more effective training. The key to doing that lies in psychological safety.

Psychological safety is the freedom to communicate, contribute, and challenge without fear of negative consequences. Studies have shown that psychological safety enables team learning and performance and is useful for understanding how we learn.


While psychological safety is easy enough to understand, achieving it at work is a much more difficult task. That’s why it’s important to design for psychological safety when creating an employee training program from scratch. Regarding topics as sensitive as mental health, psychological safety is even more foundational to the learning program’s success. For learners to process the information with the empathy it demands, they need to be able to engage with the topic as safely as possible.

Here are a few techniques for achieving psychological safety in mental-health training for employees:

Model Disclosure

Sharing ideas often is an important way to engage learners and synthesize information. That becomes tricky, though, with a topic as personal and layered as mental health. There’s a fine line between sharing and oversharing, and well-intentioned anecdotes can end up triggering other participants. The solution to this problem isn’t to curb sharing and disengage learners. Instead, invite learners to share by modeling disclosure for them. Sharing your own stories helps to create an equitable dynamic that supports psychological safety. It also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate how much disclosure is appropriate for your context.


Use Character

Vyond is a platform used for creating your own animated videos, so we get to a lot of excellent training content made by our customers. Mental-health training videos give you the power to tell stories empathetically without making the conversation feel too personal or clinical. By using characters to explore these concepts, you can establish anonymity and distance, encouraging psychologically safe engagement from learners.

Give Time to Recharge

When we ask people to engage with a topic like mental health, we have a responsibility to create psychological safety in the moment. We also have a responsibility to steward psychological safety even after the training session has ended. Rather than plunging participants right back into their inboxes, create space for them to grab lunch or take time to recharge. Schedule the session with the padding necessary for individuals to process the information at their own pace.

Create an Equitable Experience

When designing an in-person learning experience, it’s easier to create an environment that allows everybody to engage equitably. Small considerations like arranging seats in a circle or passing around a talking stick go a long way. With a little forethought, that same equity can be achieved in remote learning experiences with asynchronous modules and exceptional facilitation. As more hybrid learning experiences emerge, instructional designers will need to pay equal attention to designing equitable experiences with tactics like one-on-one device use and video-based mental health training.

About the Author

Kevin Doherty is a marketer and storyteller for Vyond, a cloud-based animation studio that allows anybody to make media that moves. An alumnus of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television, Kevin specializes in bringing powerful entertainment principles into everyday, real-life communication. In addition to marketing, Kevin specializes in learning, customer experience, and agile ways of working.

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