The stigma surrounding mental health illness may have a negative impact in the workplace.
Despite our growing awareness of what mental health illness is and how common it is, the stigma lives on in the workplace due to lack of support and resources.
This can cause problems for your employees.
Today, I would like to explore how to handle depression and anxiety (two of the most common mental health illnesses) in the workplace so you can create a healthier work environment for your employees.
It is time to eliminate the stigma.
What is mental illness?
A mental illness is a condition that affects someone's thinking, feeling or mood.
Research suggests mental illness is unique to the individual, which means each person may have different experiences despite sharing the same diagnosis. Mental illness can develop from a combination of several causes, including genetics, environment and lifestyle. It may also develop due to a stressful professional or personal life as well as from trauma.
Despite the increasing awareness of mental health conditions, there is still a stigma associated with being diagnosed with a mental illness.
This may not sound surprising, yet most people experience some sort of clinical depression or anxiety during their lives. It is not uncommon for these mental conditions to go undiagnosed, as most people are not aware they are experiencing a mental illness.
Ready to embrace mental health and create a welcoming work environment?
It all starts with comfort.
Embracing mental health illness will create a more comfortable workplace
As mentioned, mental health illness is a lot more common than we previously thought. So, what is the first step to embracing it in the workplace?
Embrace mental health illness and make it a part of your professional culture.
How do you do that?
Your employees depend on your leadership, so it is up to you to start the conversation. Consider scheduling a meeting with your team and focus on letting them know that you understand mental health conditions are common and let them know that you are there for them.
You can share a few statistics to convey just how common mental illness is.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million Americans are affected by anxiety. 14.8 million of those people suffer from major depressive disorder.
That is roughly 18% of the nation's population.
Once your team understands mental illness is more common than they realized, consider exploring anxiety and depression a little more closely.
Teach your team what mental health illness is
The more your team understands mental health, the sooner you can eliminate the stigma that causes discomfort in the workplace.
Here are a few ideas to discuss with your team:
- Feeling anxious about some things in life is normal
According to a John Hopkins Health Alert, it is not uncommon to spend an average of 55 minutes per day worrying about something. However, people with general anxiety disorder tend to spend over 300 minutes worrying.
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America
Nearly 18% of American adults suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, which may include general anxiety, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- There are many types of anxiety disorders
Research has identified several common causes and experiences that result in a variety of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, phobic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and separation anxiety disorder. These disorders are unique to the individual.
- Woman are more susceptible for anxiety disorders than men
With the exception of PTSD, women are twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder.
- Anxiety can be managed through talk therapy, medication, and sometimes meditation.
This information will help you start the conversation with your team.
At this point, you can invite everyone to schedule a meeting with you in private if they have questions or concerns.
Encourage your team to communicate honestly
The stigma surrounding mental health illness often discourages people from the conversation and is essential if you hope to create a more comfortable workplace.
More often than not, professionals will bury their feelings because they feel they will be criticized for expressing how they are feeling. If buried too long, these feelings may worsen over time and create new problems.
Clear communication will help you understand the situation and provide support if necessary.
Once your team understands you welcome the conversation, your team will feel comfortable discussing their concerns. Furthermore, and perhaps most important, your team will be open to discussing the topic with each other depending on their relationships.
This may encourage them to seek help from each other, which can result in a more understanding and supportive company culture.
Providing resources and support
Once your employees understand that you are aware and mindful of mental health illness, they will feel more comfortable turning to you for help.
At this point, you can provide helpful resources and support.
You can refer them to a trusted professional in the mental health space or schedule a group therapy session for those interested.
Group therapy allows people to express themselves in a safe environment and introduces new ideas, explore coping techniques, and discover additional resources. This may not be for everyone, but it is definitely an option.
It may be beneficial to focus on providing individual support until your team is more comfortable. More often than not, people are not ready to share their experiences or feelings. In this case, you can create a safe place for them through private meetings.
Be prepared to provide your employees with the contact information of a professional. If they ask you for help overcoming or coping with their anxiety or depression, it will make a positive impression on them if you have contact information readily available.
Maintaining a supportive workplace
If you want to maintain a supportive workplace, it is up to you to welcome your team to revisit the discussion on a regular basis.
You should not force your employees into the discussion by any means. Despite your awareness and concern, it is still a private medical concern so it is up to them to bring it up if they wish. You are there to listen and support them as well as provide professional resources for mental health assistance.
Consider scheduling a general meeting once a month, or even once a quarter, to discuss their workflow, ideas, and concerns. This will open a professional discussion and allow them the opportunity to share their personal concerns if they wish.
If you want to help your team, it is up to you to explore mental health on your own. Look for helpful resources, professionals, and programs you think might be helpful for your team as a whole.
It is not about singling any one employee out – this would only backfire and create discomfort in the workplace. Rather, it is about supporting your team as a whole and creating a healthier workplace for your employees.
Remember, listening is the most helpful thing anyone can do for someone with a mental illness. Avoid pushing solutions on to people with the understanding that it is up to them as an individual to decide whether or not they want to seek help.
Listen carefully and provide guidance as a fellow professional if they ask for help.