Due to the courageous efforts many people, communities and organizations have made to de-stigmatize mental health challenges and mental illness at large, there is greater awareness and priority today on focusing on taking care of oneself, allowing ourselves the freedom to feel and experience our authentic emotions and enact the various measures necessary to aid us in our healing processes. The concept of managing one’s own mental health is pervasive in the public consciousness as exacerbated by the social isolation and devastating psychosocial effects of the pandemic.
In the workplace, (albeit largely “virtual”) mental health is emerging at the forefront of the conversation. This makes sense. Workplace mental health needs to be a priority for employers to support their workforce with their biopsychosocial needs. Why? First, there’s an economic rationale.
The economic impact of decreased productivity in a capitalistic society is evidenced through the lessened ability to accomplish and achieve our work goals when battling with mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, stress, and burnout. More on this to come.
However, employers are beginning to recognize the humanistic nature of helping others take care of their own mental health. When someone is showing up to work for you every day amidst the pressures and stresses of our job functions, it is part the employer’s responsibility to help them manage their well-being and mood. Innovation and technology is fueling growth in the employee mental health space as companies such as Headspace Health, Modern Health, and Spring Health all provide mental health services for corporate and startup workforces.
Economic Impact of Mental Illness in the Workplace
There are many numerous permutations of mental illness expression which are encapsulated and organized in the DSM. Depression in particular is among the most pervasive, as 17.3 million adults have had at least one major depressive episode during the past year according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This figure deduces that roughly 7% of adults in the United States experience depression. The ramification on the American economy is vast as the productivity loss and absenteeism is affecting America’s GDP to the cost of over $51 billion per year.
The Challenges of Mental Health in the Workplace
There are a number of ways mental health strife for the individual affects workplace dynamics. From a productivity perspective, happier employees produce better work, stay more engaged and contribute to a vibrant workplace (even digitally!). The case is understandably and compassionately speaking, the opposite for unhappy employees suffering from mental health strife. Those suffering from mental illnesses face a variety of challenges that often result in decreased involvement, socialization, and comfort in the workplace.
For instance, if you’re feeling down or depressed, cognitive impairment and lower functioning are common, imposing symptoms. This cognitive impairment makes facilitating productive contributions to your workplace more difficult and slower to come by. Another example is if someone is feeling a strong sense of anxiety. Anxiety produces a discomforting sense of self which could then, in turn, make communication not as easy or simple.
This is not to say that experiencing depression or having anxiety is an inherently problematic feature of one’s complex self and mental health. At The Painted Brain, we have deep compassion for all individuals who are suffering when it comes to their mental health and we firsthand understand and empathize with this pain.
In fact, we recognize that challenges with our own mental health breeds healing which helps develop longer-term meaning-making, growth, and renewed perspectives that are valuable to the wisdom and neurodiversity of a workplace. However, when you’re in the midst of a battle with a form of mental illness, it does simply make efficiently “getting the job done” at work that much more difficult.
Starting with Changing the Culture
There are numerous methods, strategies, and humanistic ways to help employees feel more comfortable and safe when they are facing mental health challenges. First, employers have to create a culture where it is known to be “okay” and “acceptable” when someone is struggling. Often the fear of losing one’s job and the stigmatized shame of opening up about your suffering are strong forces that prevent an individual from seeking generalized help, let alone sharing the details of the suffering with one’s manager and higher-ups.
If we can normalize and allow space for our mental health issues to be compassionately appreciated, we’re more likely to be open with our co-workers when there is a non-judgmental company culture deeply embedded in the workplace dynamic. From there, connections to services from depression screenings to therapy are necessary. That’s why we’re excited about the aforementioned technology innovation that’s expanding access to key resources for employee workforces.
We are excited that mental health is becoming more de-stigmatized and the workforce is taking notice. Although the productivity decrease and human pain ensuing as a result of mental health strife are ultimately damaging to an organization’s output and an individual’s well-being, it is encouraging that the conversation is continuing to grow. As the conversation expands and employers are starting to understand the importance of espousing proactive and supportive mental health policies, tactics, and cultures in their organizations, we hope there is progress made to improve mental health outcomes in our country’s workforce.