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This Is Why Workplace Mental Health Awareness Is Important 

By: Diane Bowden

 

Wellbeing at work

Workplace mental health awareness is crucial in recognizing and responding to the struggles employees face. Find out more on our blog. 

Mental illness shouldn’t be overlooked or ignored within the workplace. Failure to acknowledge it, and respond when needed, may lead to devastating results for all parties involved. Raising awareness around mental health is crucial to maintaining a healthy and supportive work environment that encourages individuals to speak up and seek help when needed.

It’s important to understand that while individual mental disorders may have different causes and triggers, the structure and personality of a workplace can also cause and contribute greatly to a person’s mental health. This is why it’s vital that companies focus on helping when and how they can. This will enhance worker’s feelings of safety and acceptance, and can in turn optimize productivity and engagement.

Workplaces have seen their fair share of mental-illness related absences and concerns over the years. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, however, has seen a significant increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression disorder among adults. According to Mental Health America’s “Prevalence of Mental Illness” data report, approximately 47 million Americans are now suffering from a mental illness.

An increase in substance abuse, sleep disruption, suicidal thoughts, and eating difficulties were also reported. Mental illness in Australia has also become a leading cause of sick-leave and long-term work incapacity. Therefore, companies moving forward in 2021 should be vigilant in how they welcome back workers and address these concerns. Raising awareness is one key way of doing so. (1) (2) (3)

It is enough. Tired man sitting on the foreground leaning his chin on the fists while dreaming about future vacation

What can cause or contribute to workplace mental illness? 

Workplace mental health awareness is important, as it can help companies see the areas in which they can improve. Plus, if managers and co-workers have no understanding of the challenges someone might be facing, they may inadvertently exacerbate them.

Potential causes and triggers of workplace mental illness include:

  • Heavy workload
  • Improper breaks
  • Toxic environments
  • Unprofessionalism
  • Violence, harassment, and bullying
  • Unrealistic expectations and KPIs
  • Long hours
  • Tight deadlines
  • Micro-management and lack of autonomy
  • Job insecurity.

What can be done to promote awareness?

There are various methods and initiatives that companies could implement in- and outside of the workplace in order to raise a proper level of understanding surrounding issues of stress, anxiety, depression, and ADHD, to name a few.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health promotion programs have proven effective when combining both mental and physical health interventions. If issues are related to abuse, workplace violence and harassment awareness courses have also been considered a wise addition to workplaces aiming to teach methods of prevention and response. (4)

Apart from the introduction of specific programs, other techniques include:

  • Proper communication platforms and open discussions
  • Workplace policies
  • Staff training
  • Professional healthcare check-ups
  • Alterations to workload/modified duties
  • Flexible hours
  • Reduced stigmas around mental health
  • Support networks and seminars
  • Tailored work areas
  • Counselling and mentoring
  • Stress-management workshops
  • Physical and digital information sheets listing signs and symptoms to look out for
  • Mental health assessment tools.
    (3) (5)

It’s important to note that the government, general public, community leaders, and individual workers can also do their part to promote awareness. However, some people may place more responsibility on the businesses themselves to take proper action. Failing to do so can leave employees feeling neglected, as has been revealed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). Their 2017 study of 1575 respondents revealed that 66% of workers felt their workplace had no sufficient policies or programs in place to address mental health concerns. 90% revealed that their jobs had no proper mental health-related leave options. (6)

If mental health isn’t taken seriously and approached with care, employees aren’t the only ones who will be affected, as will be explored below.

Negative impacts of minimal awareness

Lack of sufficient understanding, communication, and action around mental health can impact the following categories in different ways:

Employees

Workers can face a wide array of problems if their wellbeing isn’t taken into account. The following problems may arise as a result:

  • Increased number of sick days taken
  • Poor productivity rates
  • Compromised performance and motivation
  • Minimized engagement
  • Inability to function properly
  • Worsened symptoms and additional illnesses.

Anyone who suffers from anxiety and depression first-hand will no doubt be able to confirm the myriad of physical symptoms that can come with them. These symptoms can in-turn affect one’s ability to perform work tasks to a high standard. According to a mental health report by the CDC, depression can interfere with a person’s work capabilities up to 20% of the time, and their cognitive performance up to 35%. This brings to light how important it is to tailor certain work duties to employee’s specific needs in order to maximize success without compromising health. (7)

Increased awareness may be the answer to addressing the above needs and may also aid in encouraging individuals to seek help. According to the study above, only 57% of sufferers with moderate depression and 40% with severe depression actually seek professional assistance. (7)

Businesses

Companies who neglect mental health concerns may suffer the following consequences:

  • Increased employee absences from work
  • Missed deadlines
  • Lower quality of work
  • Higher staff turnover rates (recruitment and training costs).

Financial loss is another major concern. Before COVID-19 the MHCC revealed that Canadian businesses lost an estimated CAD$6.6 billion each year due to decreased productivity caused by mental health issues. The US, as of 2019, also fell victim to losing USD$193.2 billion per year. Therefore, the higher numbers of people suffering from mental health problems post-pandemic could prove challenging for business’s financial situations. (5) (8)

Society

Ignoring the issue can also take a toll on society as a whole, presenting itself in the following ways:

  • Unemployment
  • Financial loss
  • Human rights violations
  • Higher suicide rates
  • Prevalent stigmas
  • Discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Additional ailments (physical and mental).
    (9) (10)

Final thoughts 

Workplace mental health awareness is crucial in the acknowledgment of and response to the challenges individuals may face. If not properly recognized, employees, employers, and society as a whole may undergo additional distress—physically, mentally and economically. Ensuring proper treatment and policies are in place is key, as is utilizing other methods to increase awareness to help normalize the discourse surrounding mental health.

References:

  1. “Prevalence Of Mental Illness 2021’, Source: https://mhanational.org/issues/2021/mental-health-america-prevalence-data
  2. “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use”, Source: https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
  3. “Workplace wellbeing”, Source: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/wellbeing/workplace-wellbeing/
  4. “Workplace Health Promotion”, Source: https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html
  5. “Understanding mental health, mental illness, and their impacts in the workplace”, Source: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2018-06/Monreau_White_Paper_Report_Eng.pdf
  6. “5 Reasons Companies Should Promote good mental health in the workplace – Starling Minds”, Source: https://www.starlingminds.com/5-reasons-companies-should-promote-good-mental-health-in-the-workplace-starling-minds/
  7. “Mental Health In The Workplace”, Source: https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/pdfs/WHRC-Mental-Health-and-Stress-in-the-Workplac-Issue-Brief-H.pdf
  8. “The Cost Of Ignoring Mental Health In The Workplace”, Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/carleysime/2019/04/17/the-cost-of-ignoring-mental-health-in-the-workplace/?sh=30d623f3726a
  9. “Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics”, Source: https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics
  10. “Investing in Mental Health”, Source: https://www.who.int/mental_health/media/investing_mnh.pdf
Published: May 27, 2021
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Diane Bowden

Diane Bowden is a mental health professional. She conducts psychotherapy and group therapy in occupational settings. She gives helpful advice about mental health awareness through guest blogging. Diane enjoys gardening, cooking, and baking during her free time.

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