Many people fear that talking about their struggles with mental health will make those around them view them differently. Unfortunately, sometimes that concern is warranted. The last thing anyone wants is to feel judged, shamed, or looked down upon.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) tell us that with one in five Americans living with a mental health condition, companies are beginning to recognize mental health and wellness as an essential element of overall workforce health.
Regardless of the type of business, helping employees take care of their mental health boosts morale, and that’s good for business. The mental health pendulum has a wide swing that encompasses everything from abulia (a pathological inability to make decisions or take action) to social anxiety disorders, and everything in-between including bipolar disorder, panic attacks, depression, and thoughts of suicide— frequently masked in the workplace.
And while I’m not a fan of the top-down leadership model, it’s imperative that work cultures support people dealing with mental illness starting at the top and infiltrating down. The stigma of mental illness can be removed by treating it the same as people who have been diagnosed with other types of illness. People need to be able to talk about it without fear, shame, or stigma.
Some people are afraid to seek help because of the fear they’ll be found out and ridiculed in the workplace. They suffer in isolation and have more instances of decreased work performance and burnout. This goes a long way toward reducing creativity, productivity, and team cohesion, while increasing higher turnover and insurance rates.
“As much as it shouldn’t matter and people should be able to go and talk about these things openly, that’s not the case in every workplace. Your dynamic with the boss and company culture will factor into the decision.” —DR. DAVID BALLARD, assistant executive director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence
Start your mental health conversation when there is ample time to have a discussion and neither you or your manager will have to cut the conversation short to take care of other obligations.
Set aside thirty minutes to an hour.
If you’re not sure how to bring up the topic of your mental health, start with an email or text that says, “I have some important things on my mind and need to make time to talk to you about them.”
Find relevant information online that will help you explain what you’re going through. Print it and bring it to the conversation for reference.
CHRISTINE MOUTIER, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suggests, “If you decide to speak with your manager, you might want to broach the subject like this: “I’d like to speak with you about this health issue going on in my life, because I’ve wondered if it could be impacting my work.” She goes on to say, “It would be reasonable to just leave it in the category of ‘a health issue I’m dealing with and addressing…’ that applies to whether it’s hypertension, diabetes or depression. You’re not obliged to name your condition to your supervisor.”
“As awkward as the discussion may feel, go into it knowing that you are protected. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which your HR department should be familiar with, ‘prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment…’ The act further stipulates that ‘Anyone known to have a history of mental disorders can be considered disabled.’ That means you have rights and shouldn’t be worried that your employer will act against you simply because you open up about what’s happening.” —MELODY J. WILDING, licensed social worker
“Many organizations are waking up to the fact that failure to promote the mental well-being of employees can lead to long-term problems, including reduced competitiveness, lower productivity, and fewer prospects for sustainable growth. Conversely, the rewards for businesses that engage with this issue are huge. A large part of this is making sure people feel equipped to start the conversation; this extends right through from boardroom leadership to empowering individual employees to have a voice.” —LOUISE ASTON, wellbeing director at Business in the Community (BITC)
Disclosing struggles can be intimidating, but it can also bring much relief. If you decide to disclose your mental health information, what you do share will be kept confidential. Overall wellbeing and mental health issues aren’t as hidden as they used to be. Most companies today have resources for locating behavioral health services if you’re not already seeing someone. You shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed by your mental health issues or let them prevent you from going after the job you want or the career you deserve.
As a culture, we’re slowly approaching a greater acceptance of mental health issues. We’re having more conversations and understanding that the open dialogue around mental health and wellbeing can be healing in and of itself.