Let’s Get Our Heads Around Mental Health » Mind Tools Blog

Let’s Get Our Heads Around Mental Health

March 11, 2016


Mental health and behavioral disorders make people feel uncomfortable. I’m not talking about people who have such conditions, I mean the people who don’t. If you don’t have any personal experience of it, it can be – excuse the wording – difficult to “get your head around it.”

If you see a friend or work colleague with a cast on his or her wrist, or hobbling along on crutches, you can immediately sympathize and empathize. You can process the obvious visual clue, and it’s likely you’ve suffered a similar injury and can “feel their pain.”

The clues that someone has a mental health issue can be far more difficult to identify.

Also, chances are, someone with such a condition is doing his best to hide it. But that position is understandable, while a stigma is attached to mental health. And it can be tricky to know what to say if someone does confide in you, or if you find out some other way.

Social awkwardness is one thing, but the real shame is that people can be extremely reluctant to reveal their condition because of the potential detrimental impact on their careers and on workplace relationships. They can be fighting on two fronts – managing the condition itself, and trying present a “normal” façade to the rest of the world.

I like to think that, as individuals, we can overcome initial awkwardness and confusion at learning a friend or colleague has a mental health or behavioral condition, and we will be supportive and do our best to understand and make certain allowances for her. But can organizations do more to help those with disorders or mental health disabilities to succeed and thrive at work?

Managers have to balance their responsibilities to their team members and to their organizations. So, while they may recognize the skills and strengths of someone with a mental health condition, and create an environment that is supportive and inclusive, they must also establish boundaries regarding what behaviors are unacceptable in the workplace.

We have examined this issue in our articles on managing people with PTSD and people on the autistic spectrum. And this week, we explore how to manage a person with ADHD.

What are your experiences of mental health issues in the workplace? If you have managed someone with a condition, what strategies did you use? And if you have a mental health condition that you felt able to discuss with your manager, colleagues or organization, what reaction did you get? And did you get the support and help you needed? We’d love to hear your views. Let us know in the comments section, below.

9 thoughts on “Let’s Get Our Heads Around Mental Health

  1. Joshua Modaha wrote:

    I love the article, its awesone.

  2. Paula wrote:

    I feel that a lot of the stigma attached to mental health comes from the language we use. In my opinion, the term ‘mental health’ is itself stigmatizing. It has long been associated with shame and I believe that as long as we continue to use this term, it will be difficult to reduce stigma in any significant way. I propose that we all begging to replace the term ‘mental health’ with the term ‘mind health’ and do so sweepingly and swiftly in our research, clinical settings, education and health sectors as well as in everyday conversation.

    1. YolandeMT wrote:

      This is a great comment, Paula. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – it’s something I will definitely start paying attention to from now on.

    2. Sheena Carroll wrote:

      I totally agree Paula… I think we really need something other than ‘mental health’. I had thought of polling opinion for an alternative name… but I do think ‘mind health’ fits the bill.

    3. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      I agree Paula that there is stigma and shame around issues about ‘mind health’. Yet, the more we can bring it out in the open and talk about it, the better. Once you shine a spotlight on shame, the less negative impact it has.

  3. Paula wrote:

    Apologies for the typo: should be ‘all begin’ not ‘all begging’.

  4. Marissa wrote:

    I have tried both strategies. “Hiding” or “wearing a mask” to work and “trusting” HR and supervisors by disclosing. Neither turned out well. If you hide it, people will likely not understand why you are the way you are even though you’re trying your best to “be” like everyone else. If you take a chance by trusting and telling them, they may ultimately use it against you (without using “it” against you). Many people with mental health issues are intelligent, hard working, and conscientious who care very much about their jobs, their company, and their co-workers. In the future, I won’t disclose any mental illness or personality disorder to my employer because (a) even though they tell you that you can trust them, they may not turn out be trustworthy at all, and (b) they may ultimately use it against you even though there are “laws” against it. I do not mean to generalize and throw all businesses in the same basket, but this has been my experience.

  5. Margaret Balsillie wrote:

    MINDfulness in the workplace is everybodies business, we certainly need to highlight the importance of the balance between the organisational requirements and the person with the disability , the hurtful fact is this, sometimes a person with a hangover is likely to get more sympathy in the workplace than somebody with a mental health issue. That is just not good enough – education, trust and understanding are the three ingredients required for ongoing change in our workplaces to enable us to make a real difference.

    1. Midgie Thompson wrote:

      Thanks Margaret for making the point that it is education, trust and understanding that are essential in the workplace for more people to understand mental health issues. I think we still have some way to go though to get more understanding surrounding this area.

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