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Strategies to Address Mental Health in the Workplace
At least 44 million American adults suffer from a mental health disorder; many more have not been diagnosed. A startling 9 million of those diagnosed with a mental health condition report having an unmet need for care. Mental health is a sensitive issue in general, and particularly in the workplace. This is largely due to the stigma surrounding those who may be dealing with mental health issues.
The Stigma Behind Mental Health
It’s important to realize the stigma behind mental health issues so that you can work out a strategy for dealing with it. A stigma is when someone views a person in a negative light because they have a personal characteristic that is perceived as, or actually is, a disadvantage. Unfortunately, negative beliefs and attitudes toward people who have mental health conditions are all too common.
Stigma very quickly leads to discrimination, which can be a serious problem in the workplace. Discrimination can be blatant and direct, such as someone making a negative comment about another employee’s mental illness. Or it may be subtle or unintentional, such as someone avoiding another employee because they are thought to be dangerous, unstable, or violent because of their mental illness. Sometimes employers or members of the management team may also be judgmental.
Stigma about mental health issues can have harmful effects including:
- Lack of understanding from co-workers
- Reluctance to seek treatment
- Fewer job opportunities
- Harassment or bullying
- Insufficient health insurance
- Low self-esteem
The Importance of Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace
Don’t let the stigma of mental illness keep you and your employees silent. The workplace is a very important place to discuss mental illness, yet it is seldom discussed in this environment. Why? Because employees are uncomfortable talking about it with bosses and co-workers, they are afraid it might cost them their jobs, and they don’t want future employers hearing about it and judging them. This is how the stigma behind mental illness keeps them silent.
Employers have incentives to encourage discussion of mental illness in the workplace. Mental illnesses cost employees 217 million lost workdays and more than $100 billion annually. Employers also have an opportunity to facilitate such discussion and reverse the climate of fear surrounding mental health conditions to make the work environment a better place.
Here are more reasons why discussing mental health in the workplace will benefit everyone:
- Help employees become happier, confident and more productive: In a work environment where employees feel comfortable talking about their mental health issues, they will feel more at ease. Employers may even be able to recommend ways to cope with certain situations in the workplace which may trigger mental health symptoms – for example, anxiety. Employees and staff could work together to create a plan which would allow the employee to improve his or her performance and improve his or her overall performance and happiness.
- Creating a culture of acceptance: Building a work environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health conditions whenever they feel like it creates a strong culture of acceptance. It’s also important for employers to share their experience of mental illness. Many people are not aware that their managers have struggled with issues such as anxiety and depression and gotten treatment for them. Addressing mental health in the workplace, in this way, encourages others to seek help and advice.
- Retain and attract more employees: Some of the most skilled and valuable employees struggle with mental illness. Having a solid reputation for accepting mental health conditions will enable you to hire the best workers before other companies do. Current employees are also more likely to stay loyal to the company if they can openly discuss mental illness and its treatments.
- Less stress on the workforce: When employees are under a lot of stress because of their mental illness at work, they carry that stress home with them. It then has a negative impact on their life and relationships outside work. By developing an environment where employees can openly discuss mental illness, you are helping to reduce stress and improve their lives outside work.
- Decreasing isolation: Dealing with a mental illness can make people feel excluded. If they are not having therapy, they may feel as though no one would understand or accept their illness. Such isolation can exacerbate certain mental illnesses, such as depression. By creating an environment where mental illness can be discussed openly, you can eliminate feelings of isolation and help people feel included.
Four Strategies to Address Mental Health
Here are some strategies to help you facilitate the discussion of mental health in the workplace and make your employees feel confident, happy, and productive.
Educate your Employees About Mental Health
- Educate employees to know how to identify mental illness within themselves and others
- Explain how they can cope with mental illness if they’re dealing with it themselves
- Show employees how to deal with mental illness if they see it within one of their coworkers or peers
Provide a Stress-free Work Environment
- Allow your employees to have a healthy workload, so they can have a healthy work/life balance
- Ensure that conflicts within employees or leadership are getting resolved in the healthiest possible way
- When you are disciplining employees, use practices which teach rather than embarrass
- When an employee’s performance is suffering, check their mental health before taking disciplinary action
- Use team building exercises to reduce conflict and build morale
- Provide management training to ensure that leaders are treating those under them with respect
Prevent Mental Health Triggers
- Ensure that policies are in place to prevent mental health triggers
- Initiate disciplinary action is taken when these policies are broken
- Make it known that you condemn judgment and other mental-health triggers such as:
- Sexual harassment
- Any other workplace issues that trigger mental illness
- Train your employees to accept these policies, so that they become automatic
Provide Resources for Those Who Are Struggling
- Let them know they are supported – by the company and by leadership – offer brochures and other resources to help educate your employees about mental health
- Promote support groups and other programs and to show employees that they are not alone
- Offer anonymous screenings to check on the mental health of your employees
- Offer wellbeing programs, such as:
- gym memberships, premium discounts, cash rewards, other incentives
- Benefits to help with monetary stresses
- Time off/mental health days
- Loan programs
- Good benefits
Employees spend much of their life in the workplace. For those who are suffering from mental illness, this can be excruciating if they feel they are not accepted because of the stigma of mental illness.
By implementing strategies which are mindful of and accepting mental health issues, you are showing your employees that you care about their mental health and their happiness. Striking up discussion on recognizing and dealing with mental health issues can open the door to a more personal conversation about mental illness and mental wellbeing.