Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Imagine you work with a guy named Gary. Gary’s a good worker, and you get along with him, but recently something has been off. Everything seems to overwhelm him. He’s gotten sick a few times, and he always looks tired. He’s not his normal, cheerful self, and he’s starting to make mistakes.

From here, Gary’s situation can go one of two ways.

One: His boss yells at him for messing up. Gary tries to improve, but he seems to be getting worse. His coworkers notice, and morale starts to drop. A couple of people quit, leaving the remaining workers with a higher workload, and morale drops even lower. Gary is diagnosed with heart disease and resigns.

Two: His boss asks if anything is wrong and if there’s anything she can do to help. She points out that Gary has paid time off, as well as benefits that cover physical and mental health. Gary uses some of his time off and starts receiving counseling. Despite the time off, productivity improves.

Mental Health Issues at Work

Gary might not be real, but his situation is. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • 1 percent of U.S. adults experienced an anxiety disorder in the previous year.
  • 7 percent of U.S. adults experienced at least one major depressive episode.
  • 6 percent of U.S. adults experience post-traumatic stress disorder in the previous year.

Although people might try to hide their symptoms, these mental health issues do not disappear when they clock in. In fact, workplace stress can make problems much worse. As a result, productivity and morale can suffer.

What Employers Can Do

Employers can help by supporting self-care.

  • Create a positive workplace culture that values individuals and acknowledges the importance of mental health. Avoid unhealthy company norms that stigmatize mental health issues, punish workers for using their paid time off, or praise workers for being stressed and overworked.
  • Provide mental health benefits and raise awareness of them. These can include health care benefits that cover mental health issues, an Employee Assistance Program that helps employees deal with stress and mental health issues, paid time off and flexible hours, as well as other perks like yoga classes.
  • Provide mental health days and encourage workers to use them. Employees shouldn’t have to lie about being physically sick when they need time off, and they shouldn’t feel bad about using their paid time off. Remember that happy workers are productive workers.

What Employees Can Do

Employees must also play an active role in their mental health.

  • Make sure you’re eating well and getting enough sleep. Your physical health impacts your mental health, and both impact your ability to be a productive worker.
  • Take breaks when needed. This could be anything from a 15-minute walk to stretch your legs and clear your head, a mental health day, or a longer vacation. Don’t feel bad about using your time off.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, seek help. Talk to your supervisor if your workload is too heavy or if you need time off. Use your benefits to get counseling or other help.
  • Be supportive of your coworkers. They may be dealing with their own issues, and they may need to take time off. Help create a friendly, polite, and caring workplace.

Just like physical health issues, mental health challenges affect our ability to work effectively. By being aware, responsive and empathetic to those around us, we can promote a supportive and healthy environment, where we can all get the help we need.