The importance of talking about mental health in the workplace
Mental health is a becoming a more widely discussed issue in the workplace. When it’s not addressed, issues can arise that affect not only the struggling employee, but also the entire organization.
The following aspects contribute to the importance of addressing mental health at work.
Mental illness is more common than many people may realize
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that 1 in 5 Americans experience mental illness each year. That means 18.5 percent of the population in the U.S., and a large portion of the workforce. Globally, over 300 million people suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization, which is the leading cause of disability.
These statistics are reason enough for managers and employers to start treating mental illness seriously. The first step is creating a plan that can allow for open communication, education and better understanding and support.
Misconceptions about work problems
If an employee struggles with mental health issues, however minor, and that person doesn’t feel comfortable talking about it with their manager or human resources professional, many issues can arise.
If the person exhibits problems completing tasks or showing up for work on time, for instance, and no one is aware of the illness, it may just make that person look bad to management. They could even be terminated for these problems.
However, if open communication is encouraged and consistently offered, the employee could instead disclose his or her issue and managers could adapt scheduling or workload accordingly.
Lack of education
Similarly, if employees don’t understand mental illness, or aren’t aware of the resources offered to them, problems can arise. Regular seminars, webinars or email blasts that provide valuable information about mental illness can all be effective steps to take.
Employees should be educated on how to react if a mental health emergency arises. Encourage them to listen to co-workers, teach them how to ask about any severe mood changes, and encourage them to always pay attention to any odd or alarming behavior.
Distributing information about employee assistance programs (EAPs), which Forbes stated provide free counseling and support to employees, is also important in order for all employees to be aware of their available resources.
Guidelines that must be followed
To address these issues, legislation and organizations have been put into place governing what workplaces are required to do. These include:
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Employees with mental health illness cannot be fired, forced to stop working or rejected for a promotion based on their mental health. Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations for those with these conditions.
- The NAMI: To deal with a psychiatric crisis, employees with mental health illness may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to manage it.
- Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act: Insurance coverage for mental health must be comparable to physical health coverage.
Mental health is a serious issue that must be addressed in each and every workplace. Chances are, these issues affect every office, even if managers are unaware that an employee may be struggling. Misconceptions about a person’s behavior may arise if education, awareness, and open communication are not supported by upper management or human resources.