with Lisa Greene, LPC, CACII
With National Mental Health Awareness Month this May, I want to open up the conversation around mental health at work with our staff. But, I don’t want to go about this sloppily in a way that makes anyone feel pressured to be vulnerable about something if they’re not.
How can I make more space to discuss the full spectrum of mental health experiences we may be bringing to our workday, without overstepping boundaries?
– Ready But Concerned
🎙️ Prefer audio? Hear Lisa read her response:
Dear Ready But Concerned,
It is safe to say that we have all faced numerous challenges over the last 2 years that could lead to a shift in our mental stability. Specifically, the aftermath of navigating around COVID-19 and all that surfaced with it – vaccinations, quarantining, working from home, disrupted schedules, lack of social interaction, and more.
With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it is a good time for all to pause and reflect on the toll that was taken during this time. There is an opportunity to decrease the stigma associated with mental health and find ways to lean into support for ourselves, teams, and others that we care about.
Nearly one in five people in the US live with a mental health condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Considering that most people either spend most of their time at a physical workplace or working on a virtual platform, it makes sense that team members are often the first to recognize that someone is showing up differently in the workspace.
The Situation Today
2022 is by far the worst mental health crisis that I have witnessed in my 30 years of service. This is not only true for adults but also for our teens’ mental health. It is often difficult to ask for help around mental health concerns for fear of being judged. If we work to open dialogue that helps to destigmatize mental health, then the solution of seeking treatment will be normalized as it is with other physical ailments.
* Trigger Warning: the descriptions below reference mental health disorders and some of their catalysts including trauma and sexual assault.
The most common mental health disorders that show up in workspaces are:
- Depression – characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities to the point of impacting daily functioning.
- Anxiety – excessive worrying that is not able to be controlled and interferes with daily activities.
- Mood disorders – inability to manage moods leading to elevation or lowering of a person’s mood. The most common mood disorder is Bipolar.
- Trauma – an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Trauma is subjective but is also easily triggered.
- Substance-use disorders – when the recurrent use of alcohol and/or drugs causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
The above diagnoses, while common, can only be diagnosed by a licensed mental health provider. Organizations have to constantly promote the value from their team working on internal issues. While individuals attending to their mental health concerns is definitely “I” work, the “we” and “us” work is where companies can step up to ensure that the workspace is one that is responsive and respectful of this personal area for the teams. It can be uncomfortable to begin dialogue about mental health in the workplace but it is needed to decrease the stigma and help your employees remain healthy and a viable part of your team, and our larger community.
How To Respond
Let me offer a few suggestions for this (or any!) month that you can share with your organization:
- Take care of yourself: Life has numerous ups and downs. Make sure that you are getting the support you need to show up authentic in your community (with work, family, friends, etc.). If you feel that your mental health is starting to be impacted by the stressors of life, seek professional treatment to stabilize yourself and avoid an escalation of symptoms. It is okay to not be okay with navigating your world currently. Some people who find difficulty accessing local support have found online therapy solutions make this more feasible for them.
- Take care of your loved ones: Check up on some of your friends, family, and professional connections. They may need someone to talk to, or need additional support. Many family members and friends are still isolated as we navigate new normals in our lives. This isolation could lead to anxiety or depression.
- Talk about mental health: One of the best ways to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month is by talking about it with your peers. The more you talk about it, the more normalized it will become. Talking is a valid form of support for someone trying to stabilize their moods or actions.
- Bring in a consultant: to create dialogue with the team in ways that don’t negatively impact your organizational systems or alienate those experiencing challenges in this area. Recognize that some team members may feel uncomfortable disclosing their mental health status at work for fear of repercussions on their career due to the current societal stigma.
The Bottom Line
While we have progressed in the area of mental health, it is still an area where the unknown often leads to damaging assumptions that lead to silence by those suffering the most. Kudos on wanting to begin the dialogue to aid your team in showing up healthier in your workspace.
If you need any further support, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.