There is an oft-neglected aspect to working in the office that needs to be addressed. It is pervasive yet unmentioned. It is stigmatized but comfortably relegated to ignorance. It affects nearly ⅕ of us in the workforce but still eludes the public conscience. It is mental health, and it’s time we dragged it into the light. Although it may be perceived as intrusive if a boss sticks his or her nose into someone’s personal life (considering mental health is, if anything, personal), that does not change the fact that such mental obstacles should be recognized, embraced, and overcome by learning to cope with them.
While mental health is indeed personal, it does have a very professional impact on productivity, and if declining mental health is directly due to increased duties at the office, then the office is responsible to at least some degree. A report was conducted just this year by Willis Towers Watson that surveyed about 30,000 employees in 19 different countries. As can probably be imagined, those employees who claimed they were in poor health (including mental health) also reported that they were less engaged. So, how do we address what can be considered a personal matter, mental health, without intruding on privacy or inspiring resentment from employees?
For one, simple education poses an adequate answer. Just by informing employees about mental health issues in general, they will become more cognizant of potential issues, disorders, and disabilities. Not to mention, it is honestly likely that a number of your employees at any given time are currently coping with various mental disorders. In fact, a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health concluded that out of a sample size of 67,901 Americans, 18.1 percent of adults said they suffered from a mental illness. In light of such, it only makes sense that offices should give employees the tool they need to recognize and cope with any possible mental disorder, education.
In order to provide proper education, offices could bring in a certified/qualified mental health professional to provide an informative seminar that details the signs and symptoms of common mental problems. Then, by encouraging an open discussion that both employees and management can participate in, the stigma surrounding mental illness will deteriorate, if not outright disappear. It is also worth noting that role-playing exercises can play a tremendous role in not only education but in providing an open forum that makes mental illness more relatable, and thus, more understandable.
Just as well, offices could provide resources to employees in order to help them better manage their mental health problems. While an employee may very well suspect that he or she may be mentally unwell, that does not mean they will seek immediate help. However, if resources are readily available, they will be more likely capitalize upon them and by extension, help themselves. Interestingly enough, there was another survey conducted in 2015 by the American Psychological Association that found that 46 percent of respondents who said they had no form of emotional support also claimed they had felt depressed at some point during the last month.
Everyone needs support, but not everyone has someone willing to provide that support, so an office with apparent mental health resources has the ability to make an enormous difference. For those without immediate family, it could potentially play a central role in their life. However, it should be mentioned that said resources should be clearly available, and thoroughly explained to employees. Considering the stigma that currently taints the undercurrents of mental health, it is unlikely that a man or woman who may or may not be struggling will be verbally proactive in obtaining the help they might need. They will not want to approach their manager or the HR department to ask about resources, so it makes more sense to just perspicuously articulate what is and what is not available so that the worker in question knows without asking.
Although mental health may be swept under the rug in most offices around the country today, that by no means makes it any less significant of, or any less pressing for that matter, of an issue. With education and resources, we can provide a professional environment that encourages personal health.