Mental health can mean a lot of things. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.
At some level, the conversation surrounding mental health has become broader over the past few years. More and more people are sharing their stories, diagnoses and ways that they manage their mental health conditions. However, there is still a stigma associated with mental illnesses in the corporate world, especially as it relates to balancing one’s health with their professional career. Managing one’s mental health, while being a productive employee, can be difficult at times and many employees feel that they must hide their conditions for fear of ramifications to their career.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, USA and the World Health Organization, more than one in four people worldwide have a diagnosable mental illness, and more than one in 17 have a serious disorder that has a significant impact on their life. As employees, mental illness can considerably impact one’s work, their productivity, and their ability to navigate the corporate world. However, mental illness is not a death sentence for your career; nor is it something that can be ignored. Balancing your work and your condition is possible, even though it often does require more planning and a commitment to self care.
The Stigma of Mental Health Issues
Mental illness is often not discussed, especially in the workplace, where people may feel that sharing their condition or their struggles in managing their conditions may negatively affect their careers. In the USA, legally, employers are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with mental illnesses and are required by law to provide “reasonable accommodations” for persons with disabilities. Yet, stigma still pervades our public consciousness when it comes to mental illness.
The onus of asking for these accommodations falls on the employee, as does asking for any help when you need it. As an employee, this question of whether to disclose your struggles with mental health or to continue trying to manage your symptoms on your own, can weigh heavily. There’s no right answer that applies to all situations. Yet, each employee’s mental health is a priority that both he or she and their employer should prioritize.
We’ve seen how well managed mental health can positively impact someone’s work and have been warned about the dangers of lessened productivity and efficiency when it is not under control. While these things are undoubtedly important, a significant part of this issue is a quality of life concern, rather than only one of quality of work.
Whether you yourself are dealing with a mental health condition or you want to become a more supportive coworker to those who are coping with their own condition, there are things that you can do to manage your own health and to promote an environment of inclusion.
One important way that we can all address the stigma that surrounds mental health, is to talk openly about it.
What you choose to share about your own condition or a current struggle that you’re undertaking is up to you. Some employees may want to keep their conditions to themselves, while others want to encourage colleagues by sharing how they’ve managed a diagnosed condition.
These communication channels should be open and exist without discrimination or ill will. Mental health is unfairly stigmatized in comparison to other health conditions, like cancer or heart disease, and this climate of secrecy, this stigma, encourages or serves to drive those who are suffering farther away from the supports that could help them.
In many startup environments, the workforce may be smaller and there may not be comprehensive health benefits offered to every employee. If these are in place, workplaces can offer Employee Assistance Programs that can help support employees as they tackle their mental illnesses. Offering comprehensive health benefits that include mental health care are an economically viable option, and the return on investment can translate into higher productivity rates and sales as employees are more productive.
Mental Health and Stress
Work and the stress and frustration that often accompany it, shouldn’t come at the cost of your happiness. Self care is an important aspect of managing mental health and stress.
Eating balanced meals, exercising regularly, and getting fresh air are all great ways to manage stress and can help with mental health related symptoms. Despite the temptation, don’t rely on drugs, alcohol or nicotine to manage your stress.
These are short-term solutions that act like a bandage over a crack in concrete. They can’t solve the problem but they temporarily make us feel better or forget that the problem exists at all. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, seek professional help, as it is likely to worsen your overall mental health state.
While every year, one in four people will suffer from a mental health condition that is diagnosable, far fewer actually receive help. Part of this discrepancy may lie in the fact that many people are unaware of what constitutes a mental health condition.
Most of us are familiar with the terms anxiety or depression, but those less informed or who have not been exposed to mental health conditions, are unable to realize that the stress or unhappiness that they feel can actually be a diagnosed condition. We also normalize mental health symptoms to some extent in the corporate world.
Working long hours, neglecting sleep, feeling stressed more often than not and having anxiety over project deadlines are not just normal behaviors. They can be indicative of a mental health problem.
Identifying and Reversing the Problem
Identifying that you might be struggling with a mental health condition is the first step in getting help. Professional help, in the form of counselling or prescription treatment, works for many people, and it’s worth exploring this as an option.However, treatment doesn’t exist in a vacuum; you still have to maintain your work schedule and meet deadlines.
Ask for help when you need it, whether that’s from another co-worker, your supervisor or your boss. We can all work together to break down this unnecessary stigma around mental health and open ourselves up to be supportive of everyone who struggles with their mental health.
This article has been contributed by the online magazine startupmindset.com of the USA and written by their staff writer Cassidy Welter.
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