By Bonny Llyn
Since the Covid-19 Pandemic, between 41% and 75% of U.S. adults (working or not) are experiencing symptoms of mental health conditions, according to the CDC. And while depression has been a hot topic, it is still not well understood. Depression often has more than one cause. Yet, considering the important role work plays in our life, work stress is often a significant cause of our mental health issues. How well we manage stress at work can make a big difference in our overall wellness. It’s very important to understand mental health in the workplace.
Mental Health is Total Health
Yes, I speak about mental health in the workplace at a variety of organizations from start-ups to mid-sized to large corporations as well as Fortune 500’s. Meanwhile, I also always include the fact that we only have one “health” – our total health. All aspects of health within the integrated health are co-dependent and correlated. From that perspective, mental health is a total health issue. Vice versa, we can’t care for a physical health condition without addressing the mental health cause and effect of that physical condition.
How we can take care of our mental health is part of how we take care of our total heath including our physical health like diet and exercise.
Some workplaces offer exceptional employee benefit packages and wellness plans that encourage a healthy diet and regular exercise. While, what’s commonly known as a “healthy” diet is up for debate (see Article titled/hyperlink to Article Titled “….”), these are good start!
Many workplaces have not yet begun this wellness journey for their employees.
Workplace Stigmas on Mental Health Conditions
While physical health conditions may be visible or widely accepted as a “normal’ experience, mental health conditions have yet to see the light of day in our culture and many cultures in the world. Mental health issues are still largely stigmatized and yet, exactly like physical conditions, they are “normal” human experiences.
In the workplace, the individual’s productivity is directly associated with the organization’s “performance”. Often – while not necessarily accurate, having a mental health condition is looked upon as not being productive. As a result, the employees/team members with mental health conditions are further stigmatized and prejudiced. Having to hide their symptoms is an additional stress.
When an employee has physical injuries such as hurting their back or knees or ankles skiing, and asks for a couple of days off, it’s a no brainer – they get the days off, no questions asked. The reality is, during those days off for their “physical” health issues, they get a break for the invisible mental health injury that’s also part of the experience! We hardly realize that this is the case.
What Can Employers Do to Help Employees’ Mental Wellness
A challenge to mental health in the workplace is stress. Companies have been addressing work stress in recent years. Topics on managing stress at work are freely discussed and yet, not topics on a variety of mental health issues at work. Part of the effort in managing stress at work translates to the enhanced employee benefits like wellness practices for fitness and diet.
Some companies have expanded their Benefit offers to include telemedicine, including mental health support. What they can do next is to encourage or incentivize employees to actually take advantage of these benefits, and on a consistent basis. Another opportunity to expand the Benefit offerings is to include even broader and more detailed lifestyle choices, as well as emotional healing. In addition, personal development work, coupled with professional development courses can go a long way.
Normalizing Mental Health Dialogue
One mental health friendly workplace practice an organization can start today is for the managers to lead the movement of normalizing mental health conversations at work.
Adopting Neutral Languaging
They can also model non-discriminating language. For example replacing terms like “mental illness” with “mental health issues” or “mental health challenges,” and replacing “nuts” or “crazy” as if attacking someone’s mental health state, with “unreasonable”, “difficult”, or “stubborn” or other factual descriptive words without making a mental health judgement.
Having Transparent Communication
Keeping the employees informed in a timely manner on new policies regarding inclusion, or the Pandemic, or future public health concerns and supportive resources like EAP can go a long way. It communicates trust and caring, which are invaluable in boosting morale in uncertain times.
Clearly, small steps can go a long way when it comes to making the workplace more friendly for people dealing with moderate and above mental health conditions. It can start with a department based or company wide awareness campaign, organized by HR. It can also start with leadership at any level: teams, divisions, or company wide.
The best time to start creating a better mental health supportive work culture is today.
Contact Bonny Llyn about speaking at your next event!