Is Mental Health an Off-Limits Subject in Your Industry?

If a co-worker of yours showed up in a walking boot, everyone would feel comfortable asking them what happened. You’d most likely get all the details while some folks shared about their related injuries. Virtually nothing about the situation would feel like it’s off-limits. If someone on the job has a mental health problem, the response would almost certainly be the opposite.

Despite the recent progress, there can still be a stigma surrounding mental health issues — especially at work. Studies find roughly two-thirds of people feel uncomfortable discussing such topics on the job. Needless to say, this trend must be reversed.

By The Numbers

Think about it. Roughly 5.5 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with heart disease. Meanwhile, about 33 percent of Americans show symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. To be clear, this is not a competition. Rather, it’s a call to recognize that far more of your co-workers are struggling with a mental health disorder than you may realize. Yet, we’ll offer the gory details of a medical procedure before we’d ever own up to feeling scared, lonely, or sad.

The cost of mental health conditions to employers is:

  • More than $100 billion per year
  • 217 million lost workdays annually

It is in everyone’s interest to overcome the stigma. But how?

What Do We Shy Away From Discussions of Mental Health?

Typically, no one fears losing their job if they miss time with a medical illness, injury, or disability. In fact, they’ll call in sick if it’s a loved one with a medical problem. As for emotional issues, there are some general reasons why most of us avoid “making a big deal” out of them:

  • You’re embarrassed to talk about it.
  • It may negatively impact people’s perception of you.
  • Mental health problems are often seen as a “weakness.”
  • You worry that our bosses or supervisors will think you’re slacking off.
  • You work in an industry that emphasizes mental toughness as a desired trait.

In addition, not enough is known about such problems. You could be struggling with a mental health disorder and not even know it. In that case, how do you explain that you need to stay home because you’re too anxious to interact with other people? The answer to a tricky question like this can begin in the workplace itself.

How to Make Sure Mental Health is Not an Off-Limits Subject in Your Industry

Employers can:

  • Provide mental health benefits that are comprehensive and affordable
  • Offer mental health days as one of those benefits
  • Train managers to better understand and recognize signs and symptoms of mental distress
  • Broaden options in areas like staggered and flexible hours, working from home, easing dress codes, and more
  • Hold meetings at which employees are encouraged to offer input on the topic
  • Offer privacy for employees who need to discuss issues with management

Employees can:

  • Lead by example
  • Be the myth-buster by sharing about mental health issues and awareness
  • Share life hacks on dealing with conditions like anxiety and depression
  • Organize with others to encourage management to get on board

If All This Feels Far Away

Anyone struggling with a mental health problem right now may read the above input and feel overwhelmed. Remember, no one is asking you to put your well-being at risk in the name of revamping the workplace. The change begins with you getting a handle on your own needs. Before you can help others, you might want to talk with a therapist to learn more about taking such steps. If the topic of mental health awareness in the workplace resonates with you, I invite you to reach out today to get things started.

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