Home 5 Clinical Diagnostics Insider 5 Expert Q&A: Fostering Mental Health in the Lab

Expert Q&A: Fostering Mental Health in the Lab

by | Jun 21, 2024 | Clinical Diagnostics Insider, Special Focus-dtet

Laboratorian and workplace wellness expert discusses mental health challenges in the lab—and how to foster safety and support

It’s no secret that clinical laboratory professionals often face mental health struggles like stress, burnout, depression, and even addiction.1 With high workloads, shrinking staff numbers, and the perennial obscurity of the lab, mental health among laboratorians is on the decline2—and so are job satisfaction, retention, and healthy coping strategies.

Efforts to relieve stressors in the clinical lab have focused on adopting new technologies that simplify or automate tedious tasks, increasing recruitment and retention efforts, and improving outreach and advocacy to raise awareness of the lab’s crucial role in patient care. But these initiatives—although valuable—can’t stand alone. To help employees access the resources and assistance they need, lab leaders must create a workplace culture that encourages openness around mental health, provides a safe environment in which to share struggles, and demonstrates a genuine commitment to ensuring that every member of the lab feels secure and supported.

Clinical Diagnostics Insider spoke to Wendy White, a former laboratorian and clinical informatics expert who is now chief executive officer of mental health and addiction support nonprofit Face It TOGETHER, to find out more about workplace wellness in the lab.

Q: What are the major contributors to mental health challenges in the clinical lab?

A: Even though talking about mental health struggles is more prevalent today than in the past, these challenges are still heavy with shame and stigma for those who are dealing with them. In the workplace, individuals often fear for their jobs. They worry that their struggles will be held against them in ways that could impact their current or future employment. This is compounded when you add on the unique stresses that come with the work of a medical professional, particularly in the laboratory. It can be especially difficult for someone struggling with mental health to seek support if they are employed by the same organization that provides help (as is often the case in healthcare settings). Fears that personal information will not be kept confidential are common.

Q: What are the potential consequences of allowing these contributors (and the resulting mental health issues) to go unchecked?

A: If the right workplace culture does not exist for those with mental health or addiction challenges, it can be difficult for people to get the help they need. Without appropriate support, work quality suffers and mistakes can happen. When you are talking about a role in healthcare, the consequences can truly be life or death.

It’s also vital to include loved ones in conversations about struggles and support. The friends and family of people facing mental health difficulties are also significantly impacted, often including their performance at work. Without the right support, caregivers and other loved ones can become distracted with worry, experience poor sleep patterns, or even engage in other unhealthy coping strategies—and it’s important for those in positions of responsibility to be aware of and sensitive to the challenges their colleagues may be experiencing not just within, but also outside the workplace.

Q: People are often unwilling to discuss their mental health, especially in the workplace—so how can lab leaders find out about potential issues?

A: Lab leaders, managers, and administrators can make a positive difference in their employees’ lives by creating a culture that promotes safety in being honest with an individual’s situation. This is a multifaceted task, but one way to help create this kind of culture is to hold events that allow people to share their stories. In particular, if a leader has a personal story that they are willing to share, this openness can create an environment of mutual respect and understanding.

Offering resources to support individuals with mental health and addiction struggles beyond a standard employee assistance program (EAP) can also be helpful. When an issue presents itself, using those resources as an alternative to corrective measures such as performance improvement plans or termination can help employees feel supported and further foster a safe environment in which people are not afraid to ask for help.

Q: Do you have any advice for individual laboratorians on taking action to improve their own mental health?

A: Don’t be afraid to seek help! Many possible routes to support are available, including virtual options that allow for greater privacy and flexibility in scheduling. There is no shame in seeking help and, if you do not feel comfortable telling your employer yet, that’s also okay. There are therapists, doctors, peer coaches, and many other professionals in whom you can confide to obtain support. If you seek help somewhere and feel judged or unwelcome, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and find a support system that will meet your needs. Most of all, celebrate the fact that you are taking action and doing your best each day.

Q: What resources or supports do you recommend to labs embarking on the journey of improving their workplace wellness?

A: There are a wide range of wonderful books, videos, interviews, and other literature about mental health and addiction out there. One that I particularly appreciate is the National Safety Council’s Substance Abuse Cost Calculator for Employers.3 It’s an educational tool that can help employers better understand the cost of addiction in their unique workplace (based on location, size, and industry), data that lab leaders and administrators can use to make a business case for expanding the services and supports their institutions offer.

My organization, Face It TOGETHER, has an employer program called FIT @ Work in which we partner with workplaces to offer peer coaching as a mental health benefit.4 Offering options like this to employees so that they have access to support beyond an EAP allows employers to further demonstrate their commitment to long-term employee wellness and cultivate a safe, supportive work environment.


    1. Smith SM et al. Burnout and disengagement in pathology: a prepandemic survey of pathologists and laboratory professionals. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2023;147(7):808–816. doi:10.5858/arpa.2022-0073-OA.

    1. Nowrouzi-Kia B et al. Examining the Mental Health, Wellbeing, Work Participation and Engagement of Medical Laboratory Professionals in Ontario, Canada: An Exploratory Study. Front Public Health. 2022;10:876883. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2022.876883.

    1. National Safety Council. Employer Cost Calculator: Substance Use. https://www.nsc.org/forms/substance-use-employer-calculator.

    1. Face It TOGETHER. About FIT @ Work. https://www.wefaceittogether.org/for-employers.

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