Mental health issues make people feel uncomfortable. I’m not talking about people who suffer them – I mean the people who don’t. When you don’t have any personal experience of poor mental health, it can be – excuse the pun – difficult to get your head around.
If you meet a friend or co-worker hobbling along on crutches, you can immediately sympathize and empathize. You notice and process the clues easily, because you recognize what you see, and understand its likely consequences. And it’s possible that you’ve suffered a similar injury yourself in the past, and almost literally “feel their pain.”
But the clues that someone has a mental health issue can be far more difficult to identify and to react to.
Stigma, Shame and Fear
Chances are, someone with such a condition is doing their best to hide it. They’ll forego the opportunity to receive any of that same sympathy and empathy because it’s risky. Having anything less than 100 percent good mental health holds a stigma. So 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 unfortunate, but the shame and fear it can lead to can create lasting damage.
People can be extremely reluctant to reveal their mental struggles because of the potential impact on their career and relationships. And so they fight on two fronts – managing the condition itself, and trying to present a “normal” façade to the rest of the world.
Their resulting isolation and growing sense of worthlessness can be devastating, as highlighted by the World Health Organization.
Mental Health at Work
I like to think that, as individuals, we can overcome our initial awkwardness and confusion at learning that a colleague is facing a health challenge, and that we will be supportive and accepting. After all, isn’t this what we need ourselves whenever we’re having a tough time?
But can organizations do more to help us all to succeed and thrive at work?
Managers have to balance their responsibilities to their team members and to their organization. And, when it comes to health, these responsibilities need not conflict.
A workplace that’s safe, both physically and mentally, and that enables its people to look after themselves and one another, will likely suffer less absenteeism and presenteeism, support more honest conversations, and engender more loyalty and trust. And all of these attributes will surely lead to success for the bottom line.
Mental Health Resources
Mind Tools has a range of resources designed to support good health at work, including How to Beat Hurry Sickness, Loneliness in the Workplace, and Personal Financial Stress and Well-Being. You can explore the full range in our Stress Management toolkit area.
What are your experiences of mental health in the workplace?
If you’ve managed someone facing a mental health issue, what strategies did you use? And if you’ve ever discussed your own mental health with your manager or co-workers, what reaction did you get? What approach does your organization take to mental health, and why?
Share your insights in the comments section, below.