Let’s Make Mental Health a Priority in the Workplace
Have you ever known a co-worker who worked non-stop? They’re the office go-getter, always available to support the team and take on extra work. But, what do you do when their enthusiasm seems out of balance?
Passion for work is common. Using passion for work to mask a mental health issue is common, too. Even the colleagues we think we know well can put on a public face to protect themselves from the stigmas of mental illness. Mental illness is one of those equalizers that doesn’t care who you are.
Today, 1 in 5 people in the workplace have some form of mental illness – from drug and alcohol addiction to depression and bipolar disorder. But, we don’t talk about it openly and honestly enough. For leaders and managers, it can be difficult to strike a balance between noticing warning signs of someone in need and getting past the trust issues they have about disclosing that need. For some employees, it’s terrifying to disclose their diagnosis because they’re afraid of the potential judgement and repercussions that may follow.
The bar for frank conversations about diversity and inclusion is already difficult to reach. And judgments around race, gender, and orientation are exacerbated by mental health stigmas. America’s corporate culture hasn’t done enough to make the 16% of Hispanics, 18% of African-Americans, 13% of Asians, and 28% of American Indians with mental illness— and the LGBTQ community who are at least twice as likely to be living with it— feel secure in just showing up for help.
So, how do we protect co-workers who have been hurt and isolated by previous encounters with racism, sexism, and homophobia from feeling even more hurt and isolated around mental health? There isn’t a one-size-corrects-all solution. But, meaningful effort starts when leaders make themselves available to hear the concerns of their employees. Many managers aren’t aware of the resources available to help employees navigate these issues.
If your workplace does not offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), where employees can talk about mental health and personal problems with their EAP administrator, be sure to seek local services. Take for example the following United Way partner programs. The Refuge Center for Counseling in Franklin offers affordable professional counseling services for individuals, couples, and families. They offer clients with financial need sliding scale fees so that quality counseling is accessible at all income levels. You can also contact the Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee (MHAMT) for assistance. MHAMT connects the community with specialized mental health and wellness resources.
Leaders should make an effort to increase the productivity and responsiveness of their teams by showing compassion, concern, and empathy— and by fostering core workplace values around compassion, empathy, and inclusiveness. When we humanize mental illness, we introduce the tools and language to talk about it and save lives, particularly for people of color and LGBTQ people who are already less likely to receive treatment and confront insensitivity if they do. We make people a priority. Just as important, we give our colleagues permission to let their masks slip so we can help them when they need it.
Original article by Darlene Slaughter, United Way Worldwide