Do you have a workplace environment where team members can address symptoms or concerns with mental illness? If you don’t, read on – the facts may surprise you.
Like many illnesses, mental illness – such as depression, anxiety disorders, mood disorders or addiction – affects people across all life stages and occupations. In fact, research indicates that 20 percent of us will experience a mental health problem over the course of our lifetime. Even if you aren’t one of those 20 percent, you’re likely to work alongside someone who is working through the symptoms of a mental illness (or is trying to conceal those problems at the workplace for fear of the stigma that can be associated with mental illness).
What can you do as an employer, and as an employee, to help encourage an environment where knowledge of symptoms and resources for treating mental illness are on the forefront?
1. Know the facts. In terms of productivity at work, a report estimates that at least 44 percent of employees who took part in the survey “Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces” were working through a mental illness or had in the past. Mental health issues among employees affect all businesses, from small companies to large corporations.
2. Share the reality that mental illness in the workplace is serious and affects all levels of employment. Many workers may feel that they can’t bring up their challenges or symptoms or shouldn’t bring them up for fear of being stigmatized or even overlooked for assignments. As they keep symptoms concealed, such as anxiety or depression, the illness is likely to progress – prolonging diagnosis and treatment for a return to quality of life. Share the reality that mental illness is like many types of chronic physical illness, in that there are identifiable symptoms, numerous treatment options and many ways to manage the illness successfully in the workplace and in a person’s family life.
3. Know and share the connections between workplace stress, employees’ lifestyles and the progression of untreated mental illness. As you’re implementing a healthy workplace initiative, the symptoms associated with many types of mental illness (such as sleeplessness or fatigue, inability to make decisions, intense mood swings or noticeable changes in work habits) should be just as top of mind as healthy eating and other physical initiatives. By making symptoms familiar to employees in a casual way, those who need to reach out for help may be more encouraged to do so.
In fact, stress is noted as a chronic health problem among nearly half the population, and is connected to heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, lung problems and even a higher rate of substance abuse or addiction. Ongoing illnesses like depression are known to weaken a person’s immune system, and those living with long-term chronic stress may have a rate of heart attack twice that of other individuals.
4. Get educated on common types of mental illness and how they can affect your organization’s productivity, retention and morale. The cost of untreated mental illness is quite high: Reports indicate undiagnosed mental illness in the workplace costs the U.S. $150 billion in productivity, annually. By knowing the basics of mental health issues at work, such as balance, anxiety, stress management and workload management, you can help create an environment where employees are willing to talk when problems arise, rather than let them go unnoticed or escalate further. Some studies suggest that when employees feel like their managers know about mental health issues, they’re more likely to feel supported and to seek support when it’s needed.
Mental health is certainly a critical business concern nationwide, and there are more resources than ever to help you create a workplace environment without stigma. This means healthier team members and a more positive, productive work environment. Now that’s good business for everyone.
For more information on adult mental health in the workplace, contact Family Guidance Center at http://www.familyguidance.org/ or 816.364.1501.