Mental Health in The Workplace
Mental health is something we all have, just like our physical health.
Some people are healthier, physically, than others are. The same holds true for mental health. Some people are not as healthy mentally as others. There is, however, a stigma in our society surrounding mental health.
Because in the realm of mental health, we have mental illness, and most people are still uncomfortable or afraid to talk about that. That stigma rarely exists for physical health. For example, if a person has been unable to work due to a heart issue, or a gallbladder surgery, it’s acceptable. Upon returning to work, he or she is probably greeted warmly, and asked how he or she is feeling. But what about the person who comes into work with severe depression or anxiety? And how does someone living with bipolar disorder (who may be experiencing highs or lows) deal in a work environment? Those suffering with mental health disorders sometimes use their physical sick days when they aren’t feeling well mentally. They also fear being shamed, or worse yet, they fear losing their job if their “secret” is told.
Recently, many notables have begun speaking out about their mental health disorders.
Michael Phelps has spoken of his struggles with depression. Lady Gaga told the press what it is like to live with PTSD, and most recently, Prince Harry added his voice to what it’s like dealing with anxiety.
While these stories from famous people help to break down the stigma associated with mental illness, they really don’t do much to make people feel safe talking about mental health at work.
In a world of inclusion, why can’t we accept and sympathize with those suffering from mental illnesses? While our culture has made strides on an acceptance towards many different types of demographics, those who suffer with other mental illness are still, for all intents and purposes, lingering in the shadows.
This stigma isn’t just costing people their health, it’s costing the companies they work for a lot of money.
What Mental Health Disorders Can Cost Workplaces
- It is estimated that 16.2 million adults in the United States, or 6.7% of American adults, have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year.
- Bipolar depression, formally known as manic depression, affects 2.8% of the United States population in a given year.
- Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression. Couple those statistics with the fact that most people spend roughly one-third of their lives at work. That is a significant amount of time, and think of all the physical ailments or mental ailments these workers can experience in that amount of time.
- Depression and anxiety cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
- In the United States, alone, mental health and substance abuse costs between $80 and $100 billion annually.
- Another study showed that serious mental health costs America up to $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
- Depression, itself, can account for more than 400 million lost work days annually.
- Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. -exactly 18.5% of the population will experience a mental illness each year.
- 60% of employees have never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health status.
A Study on Mental Health in the US Workplace
Mind Share Partners, SAP, (a European multinational software company) and Qualtrics (a company that helps schools and companies gather data and feedback on students / customers through surveys) conducted a study on the prevalence of mental health challenges and stigma in U.S. workplaces.
The study differed from other studies in the way they asked their questions. They tried to ask the questions in a less stigmatized manner.
Instead of asking if a person had a specific mental health diagnosis, they asked, “Have you ever felt numb, sad, or lost interest in things you like to do?”
They collected responses from 1,500 U.S. adults in the for-profit, non-profit, and government sectors. They also had a broad range of people who were represented across race, gender, LGBTQ, identity, education and seniority groups.
The findings revealed that less than half of the people questioned felt that mental health was a priority at their company, and even fewer viewed their leaders as advocates.
In fact, those who responded were less comfortable talking with the human resource department and senior leaders, including CEOs, who were just as likely to have mental health symptoms as did their employees.
(Watch the MedCircle original series “Mental Health at Work: Actionable Ways to Help Employees.” MedCircle certified educator and clinical psychologist, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, simplifies the complex conundrum of workplace culture and mental health, and educates employers and employees alike on actionable solutions.)
It seems that millennials and gen-zers were more likely to talk openly about mental health issues than the more senior people in a company. They were also more open to leaving companies where mental health issues were ignored.
This shows that the younger generations are more open to the issue, and view mental health disorders with less stigma. It is a generational shift in awareness. And that is a good, positive step in putting mental health front and center.
What Steps Can Employers Take To Promote Awareness of Mental Health?
There are many programs a company can implement to help keep a healthy working environment. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the following are steps an employer can take:
- Make mental health tools available for all employees.
- Bring mental health professionals in to offer clinical screenings for depression.
- Make sure your health plans offer low or no out of pocket costs for depression meds or mental health counseling,
- Distribute materials (brochures, videos, etc.) to all employees about the signs and symptoms of poor mental health.
- Seminars and workshops should be held that address depression and stress management.
- Create and maintain quiet spaces at work for relaxation activities.
- Educate your managers on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems.
- Give your employees opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their mental health.
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Starting At The Top
All the above mentioned actions are a good start in addressing mental health in the workplace, but it isn’t enough in and of itself. Every company or business has a culture that it develops.
1. Is your company sensitive to maternity and paternity leave?
2. Does your culture foster communication between management and employees?
3. Are people respectful in the everyday environment of the workplace?
You can initiate all types of programs, but the people have to feel that you really stand behind what you’re putting out there. You have to create a culture that actually reduces the stigma and makes the employees feel empowered to discuss their problems without fear of retribution.
Changing culture is a top-down process. If your CEOs and upper management (HR included) aren’t allies with the employees in this battle, the problem will not be resolved. Just putting these programs out there, and not talking face to face with your employees isn’t going to help them.
CEOs and executive teams need to share their experiences with their workers. Encourage your team to also share their experiences at all-staff meetings or in other ways they interact with their team.
Talking about these issues shows strength – not weakness. This goes a long way in reducing the stigma and it also encourages transparency. CEOs can no longer afford to ignore mental health issues in their companies.
Before Doug Colbeth became the founder and CEO of MedCircle, he was the former CEO of Kinaxis, Inc, a supply chain company in Ottawa, Canada. At Kinaxis, Colbeth took a bold move and convened a town hall meeting with all of his employees. Colbeth shared his own struggles with mental health disorders and by doing so he created a culture that allowed others to start talking about their struggles and the struggles that their loved ones were experiencing. He not only walked the walk, but he talked the talk. That town hall meeting gave his employees the safe place they needed to discuss sensitive matters with a CEO who understood. Allowing your own vulnerability to show through, helps others to talk about theirs.
The Next Generation Workplace
CEOs and upper management are busy people. We don’t expect them to be therapists, but they should be aware of problems their office mates are dealing with. They should at least be given the tools they need to see problems before things escalate. This can help them be better communicators and listeners when they see a red flag in someone’s behavior. These tools can help them recognize and respond to employees who may be struggling.
No one knows what pain a person is dealing with when they enter the workplace, but certainly educating our management team can help spot a troubled individual. And if the culture is a nurturing, caring work culture, that person can feel free to discuss what he or she is struggling with. There is never a one-size-fits all- solution to mental health. Every person is an individual with his or her own issues.
Mental health is now being seen as the next wave of inclusion in the workplace. In order for it to be successful, all employees need to feel comfortable being honest about their mental health without fear of repercussions from upper management.
Also, be clear about the mental health programs and benefits that your company provides. Many employees are afraid to ask about mental health benefits for obvious reasons, but put them out there so they don’t have to ask.
Not surprisingly, millennials were 63% more likely than baby boomers to know the proper procedure for seeking company mental health support. The millennials are not ashamed to discuss mental health issues. And in doing so, that generation is helping to erase the stigma. The ability to support employees who have mental health issues-and that includes most every employee at some time or another-is becoming a defining issue in the next- generation workplace.
The good news is that change is possible. Companies must acknowledge the prevalence of mental health conditions. They must have programs in place and provide training and support for upper management and HR departments. CEOs MUST lead by example because they are the culture and priority setters of their companies.
”The leaders who help people open up about whatever is holding them back at work, will be the most effective and admired.”Nick Tritzon, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications at SAP
If you would like to learn how MedCircle can help your company or organization, reach out to us regarding group memberships.