September 14, 2018

Starting the Conversation: Addressing Mental Health Concerns in the Workplace

by Megan R. Snyder, Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, Inc.

Fear, stigma, shame and guilt are often emotions shown by individuals who struggle with their mental health. Fear of someone finding out and confidentiality concerns are indicated as the biggest barriers to individuals reaching out for help.

Businesses need to increase education, awareness of and access to proper treatment for these issues. While these conversations are beginning to happen, the workplace is still often seen as a place where individuals are trying to maintain a standard of being hardworking, overachieving and a perfectionist. Ipsis recently conducted a study where one in four respondents named their workplace as a source of anxiety. With the large amount of hours spent at work, the workplace must be an environment to speak to these issues. Businesses should have a plan in place to address them and create a culture where wellness and access to help is encouraged and accessible. Although hard to measure, work has a tremendous impact on personal identity, self-esteem and social recognition.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a mental health issue in yourself, let alone in someone else, can be a challenge. Often, individuals feel uncomfortable or unsure of how to bring up their concerns to a colleague they suspect may be struggling; it can be a bit of an awkward conversation to have with a coworker, regardless of how well you know the individual. Early warning signs may be difficult to identify, but you may notice an individual struggling with a mental health issue experiencing:

  • Increase in drug or alcohol use
  • Withdrawing from normal activities
  • Change in sleep habits
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Low energy
  • Uncharacteristic emotions
  • Confusion/forgetfulness
  • Normal activities are a challenge
  • Thinking of harming oneself
  • Hearing voices or delusions

The consequences of mental health issues in the workplace can lead to increased health care costs to the organization from absenteeism or illness, as well as reducing work performance and productivity. Businesses must have a plan in place to help those suffering from a mental illness in order to keep staff morale high and to keep employees committed to the organization. This can also help reduce potential ethics violations and disciplinary complaints.

We do know that mental health issues are not going anywhere any time soon, and will most likely continue to rise. We must strive to create a workplace culture that normalizes wellness initiatives, and where asking for and seeking help is not seen as a weakness. Providing an ongoing forum for these issues to be highlighted and not swept under the rug will only improve the health of professionals, increase productivity, while upholding the ethical standards of the business.