If you think you don’t have to worry about mental illness in the workplace, statistics say otherwise.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.; and untreated conditions cost $200 billion annually. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so there’s never been a better time to shine a light on this issue in your workplace.
Start by working to remove stigmas about mental illness. Think about how you and others talk about depression and other mental health issues. When someone is sad, unhappy, angry, or acting out, do you brush it off, excuse it, or suggest they “get over it?” Do employees use words such as “crazy,” “nuts,” “demented,” “lunatic,” and “wacko” about colleagues who show signs of mental illness? Pay attention to how people talk about mental illness and discourage the use of negative or dismissive language. Talk about mental health openly, and help workers to think about mental illness just as they would any other disease. Specifically:
· Challenge misconceptions when you see or hear them.
· See the person, not the condition.
· Offer support if you think someone is having trouble.
· Be empathetic, not judgmental.
Need help? NAMI offers resources to create and maintain a stigma-free workplace; and the Center for Workplace Health has some useful materials, including a tool for calculating the cost of mental illness.
Of course, removing stigmas is only the start. You need to have a culture of psychological safety, where workers are comfortable being themselves and sharing their feelings and concerns. They need to know that if they are depressed, stressed, or anxious, they can seek and get the help they need without judgement. Research suggests that organizations with such a culture exhibit better employee performance, engagement, and well-being. This culture should make it clear that vulnerabilities and imperfections aren’t cause for punishment or discrimination. You need to encourage leaders and managers to be empathetic and skilled at putting themselves in others’ shoes.
Use Mental Health Awareness Month to get the conversation started. Organizations are encouraged to explore topics of animal companionship (including pets and support animals), spirituality, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as a way to boost mental health and general wellness. Download a Mental Health Awareness Month toolkit here.