Why We Need to Create Better Mental Health Awareness in Workplace Culture
We can spend up to a third of our lives at work. It can be stressful. Yet it’s potentially where we hide our mental health challenges the most.
Modern society has begun taking a deeper dive into the discussion about mental health in recent years. People are starting to realize that it’s not something to whisper about under the guise of shame, nor is it an issue we need to degrade anyone for. What we require is better listening when people ask for help. But how can truly we do that if our workplaces — where we spend roughly a third of our lives, on average — don’t account for it?
I’ve known the feeling of wanting to keep mental health issues a secret. People are judgmental. Many would rather make snap judgments than try to understand where and how your feelings originate. I found ways to hide my diagnoses of anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder at my old job for years, not wanting to draw attention to myself. The environment wasn’t conducive to the acknowledgment of anything other than stellar mental health, and I didn’t want to be the one to rock the boat.
So, I kept my struggles tucked safely under wraps, and although I did enjoy my time there, there are a thousand ways it could’ve been better. Though I try to avoid stressing over the past, I can’t help but wonder what my performance would’ve looked like if I had the encouragement to seek help. It’s hard to do decent work when you’re at war with your mind.
And while my new job is much more open with supporting and discussing mental health issues, not every employer is there yet. It begs the question — how much longer do we have to wait?
Mental Health in the Workplace
WHO conducted a study estimating that companies lose $1 trillion per year due to lost productivity from mental health issues. This statistic is a huge deal in a society where money is power, and time is of the essence. Blaming the individual is not the answer to the problem, however — especially when we consider how lacking mental health care can be. An estimated 264 million people around the world deal with depression, and this is only the known portion. Many more suffer in silence, undiagnosed or too afraid to seek help.
Workplace studies and surveys tend to focus on common disorders like anxiety, depression and PTSD, but they often neglect to mention more complicated conditions. This factor is most likely because people with severe mental health conditions struggle with finding employment and staying employed. Eighty-two percent of people in the U.S. with bipolar disorder suffer from a serious emotional impairment that can stifle job opportunities, while Americans with schizophrenia deal with a 70% to 90% unemployment rate.
Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and personality disorders exist within the population in considerable numbers, but it’s not uncommon for employers to shy away from hiring these individuals because of stigma. These realities present countless reasons why we need mental health education and empathy training within every business.
Better workplace policy is only one of the numerous steps to mental health awareness, but it’s an important one. Change can’t happen without its foundation existing first. Once that’s in place, employers have an easier time producing employee programs and initiatives. The goal of any mental health or employee assistance program should be to provide open, non-judgmental support.
Modern, progressive policies should allow workers to come forward about workplace trauma without fear of retribution from others. Individuals shouldn’t be ashamed to seek help for the struggles they face — especially not where their job is involved. They can work with their employers on removing stressors so clocking in doesn’t feel like a chore.
We all need to hold our employers accountable even after they make changes. Revising policies or adding new ones isn’t always enough. Employers must ensure that they’re upholding the standards they agreed to and not painting pictures that never come to fruition. Workplaces should invest in ongoing learning and training for their human resources department, since a decent portion of this responsibility will inevitably fall into their hands. But at the end of the day, it’s everyone at a company’s job to reiterate progressive-minded conversation every day and in every situation.
Employers. Managers. If you’re looking for ideas, you could…
Allow employees more flexibility within their schedules. Make telecommuting an option for days when coming to work feels like climbing a mountain for someone. Listen to concerns or requests workers pose and evaluate how the company can adjust to meet those needs. Reach out to your coworker who seems a little down and offer to take them out for a coffee.
Working Environment Counts
My mental health problems weighed on me long before I had any job, but sometimes mental health issues don’t appear until after starting a new position. This sudden manifestation can happen for several reasons, such as overwhelming workloads, uncooperative bosses or hostile coworkers. More people would up and quit in response to poor working environments if life were that simple. Unfortunately, many have no choice but to stay in order to pay bills.
Office bullying and harassment are also serious problems that more employers need to recognize. Women and minorities are all too familiar with having their concerns swept under the rug or half-heartedly acknowledged — and this can get even worse in working environments. Low-wage working women are especially vulnerable to assault or abuse on the job, yet they’re also more likely to stay and keep silent to avoid threatening their livelihood.
Doing your job under constant stress and fear of harassment will affect anyone’s performance and wellbeing. Employers who desire well-oiled machines must first realize their employees make up the bulk of their success — and without satisfied workers, no business can survive forever.
Bettering Our Workplaces Benefits Everyone
I believe we can reach a point of shared understanding concerning mental health if we continually work towards it. Educating ourselves and others is an ongoing process. Learning lasts a lifetime, and I see this as one of the best parts about the concept of expanding your mind. The opportunities for extending compassion to fellow humans are endless, and they shouldn’t stop after punching the time clock.
See more about mental health on Mookychick.