Workplace Mental Health

4241963210_f11f639bed_depressionIt’s been in the news lately, at least in the news that gets my attention online. And it’s an important issue. The fact is, there is probably a really good chance someone you work with is dealing with mental health issues.

According to a recent article on PsychCentral:

The on-campus dry cleaning and complimentary tai chi classes are well-received perks. But they obscure the overarching issue: mental health stressors are compromising the American workforce. The statistics are sobering. According to an Impact of Depression at Work Audit study, a quarter of American workers have a diagnosable mental health issue. Nearly 40 percent of employees take 10 days off per year as a result of a mental health condition.

Mental health, despite its prevalence, remains a taboo subject within the American workforce. In today’s competitive workforce, employees are loathe to divulge mental health tribulations. They — rightfully so — fear employer reprisals and stigmatization.

It’s sad that perfectly talented people are forced out, as opposed to supported through their issues so that they can continue to be productive employees.

Let me share my own personal history on this issue, and perhaps it will help.

Once upon a time, I had a breakdown. A very, very bad mental breakdown brought about by a combination of stress and unresolved issues surrounding my childhood. I was away from work for a month, and placed on disability leave. Upon my return, my boss at the time, Erin, sat me down in her office and we discussed how to move forward. Looking back, I now realize that Erin, who I really wish I could reach out to and say thank you to, handled this perfectly. We talked about what was required of me, both by my therapist, and by her as my boss. We talked about what I needed to be able to get better, as well as continuing to be a valuable part of the team. She also told me that while she would be available to talk any time I wanted, that she would also not ever bring it up again. That what I told other members of the team, and how much I shared with them was my choice, how much I talked to her was my choice, and as long as we stayed on the same page on my schedule and workload, she had no reason to talk to me about it, unless I needed her.

We worked out a schedule that allowed me to go see my therapist every day, and then come back and work past the normal quitting time to make up the hours, and to ensure that my projects got done each day, and that I could be in constant contact with my therapist, which was important. (Yeah, it was that bad!)

In short, I couldn’t have asked for anything more than that, and it went a long way toward helping me. Unfortunately, it worked out so well, that I was promoted to another team about a year later, and had very much the opposite experience. My new boss fancied himself a therapist of sorts, and made it a point to tell me he had seen my history and would be happy to “keep an eye out for me”. It made me ridiculously uncomfortable. So much that when I started to struggle again, due to an impending divorce and other outside stress, I simply quit and walked away rather than trying to get help from my boss.

No, I’m not going to claim that I was the world’s best employee back then. (Not like I am now, obviously…HA!), but I was pretty good at my job. I brought some value to the table, and that value simply disappeared because when I was struggling with depression and other issues, I didn’t feel like I could trust my employer to help, and I walked out. I simply disappeared, and they got to deal with turnover.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for too many people, and it has only gotten worse as we have entered the startup economy. Companies all want to run like startups, without stopping to consider what that level of stress might be doing to perfectly good employees, who simply need a bit of support. It’s all about productivity, and anything that might get in the way of it, simply cannot be tolerated.

On the other hand, you know what gets in the way of total productivity? The rest of our lives. There’s nothing about that statement that makes sense when it comes to mental well-being.

Case in point, another recent article about Mariel Hemingway, and her professional struggles because of past bouts of depression:

Hemingway, who has struggled with depression, vented her frustrations in an interview with The Miami Herald last week. She told the outlet that she felt judged in Hollywood because of it and her condition may have prevented her from landing roles.

There’s still a stigma,” she said. “It’s funny, because I’m such a healthy, balanced person now. But with people in the industry, because of a couple of stories that came out, they were like, ‘I don’t know if we can hire her ? isn’t she depressed?’”

Hemingway’s right: The attitude about mental health needs to drastically change, it doesn’t matter if it’s the film industry or the corporate world. Many people don’t come forward at work when they’re struggling with psychological disorders for fear of being judged or held back professionally. And research shows it may even prevent an individual from seeking treatment for mental health issues. But when executives do treat mental health issues with compassion, everyone is a lot better off.

While we are doing much to try and eliminate the stigma of asking for help, it does us no good if we can’t get the help we need, and also continue working. Your employees and coworkers deserve that, and make no mistake about it, someone you work with is struggling right now.

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