We Need To Talk About How We Talk About Mental Health In The Workplace
Are mental health issues being addressed properly in your workplace?
Last week, the world lost two brilliant high-profile personalities to suicide, and we’re still reeling.
Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s deaths have shown us that no amount of money, fame, or success can make you immune to mental health issues. And that’s not an easy truth to digest.
“Reach out if you need help. Check up on your friends,” we furiously type and tweet and pin — as we have each time a similar tragedy occurs.
Eventually, we will move on with our lives. The online dialogue around mental health will die down and be replaced by memes, political rants, and celebrity gossip.
Until it happens again. And it will happen again.
See, telling individuals to reach out for help if they need it isn’t enough.
We need to change the dialogue — shift it from simply asking hurting individuals to reach out to actually changing the society that hurts them.
These deaths should be a wake-up call for leaders (*cough* employers and policymakers) to do more to support mental health. Whatever we’re doing now obviously isn’t enough, and even though the personalities in the news are American, we can’t just dismiss this as a Western problem.
Research has found that 4-20% of the adult population in the Asia-Pacific experiences a diagnosable mental illness, and this range is most probably an underrepresentation. Hannah Reidy of mental health organisation Mind HK tells CNN that shame and stigma still prevent people from reaching out for help in Hong Kong, and this is no doubt true in other Asian countries as well. According to the World Health Organization, more than half of the world’s suicides are in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.
It’s unsurprising that the availability of mental health care is far from adequate in Asia. In Singapore, there are 3 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. Which isn’t bad if you consider its neighbour Malaysia, where this number drops to 0.76 per 100,000 people. In the Philippines, this plummets even further to a dismal 0.46 per 100,000 people. Even with millions suffering, mental health still isn’t a priority.
How to support mental health in the workplace
We’re now more aware of mental health issues, but this awareness isn’t translating quickly enough to real solutions — especially in the workplace. We might talk about mental health in our private lives, but in the office, we shut down for fear of being thought of as unprofessional or incompetent.
It’s up to business leaders and employers to change this. We can change this by addressing the common workplace risks to mental health, which, according to the World Health Organisation, include:
- inadequate health and safety policies;
- poor communication and management practices;
- limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;
- low levels of support for employees;
- inflexible working hours; and
- unclear tasks or organizational objectives.
Employers can help destigmatize mental health issues by supporting employees who actually take measures to take care of themselves. Last year, an email exchange between Madalyn Parker, an employee at tech company Olark, and her boss went viral.
The internet simply could not wrap their heads around the it. A boss treating his employee like a human being — what a concept!
Parker has explained that she had reached out to her boss earlier about her mental health issues, but bosses shouldn’t have to wait for their employees to reach out before they do something.
Here are some concrete actions employers can take to support mental health in the workplace, according to Inc.:
1. Re-examine the way you think and talk about mental health
Does hearing the word “self-care” make you roll your eyes? When you hear about someone struggling with mental health issues, does a tiny part of you want to make a snide remark?
You wouldn’t do the same if it were someone who had just had a heart attack. Think of mental illness as you would a physical ailment like cancer. Yes, it’s serious, but you can take some steps to help your employee overcome it.
2. Create a game plan
If an employee is suffering from a mental illness, the best thing you can do for them and your organisation is to sit down with them and find an approach that lets them do their job. Veer away from the medical mumbo-jumbo (e.g. their symptoms, medication, etc.), and focus on helping them function.
For example, if they have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, you can shift their schedule to accommodate that.
3. Make your support clear
Your goal is to make an inclusive workplace that does not shame anyone for taking care of themselves.
Instead of simply expecting your employees to adjust to today’s workplace, leaders have to begin taking steps to change it to be more accepting and supportive of different needs.
What do you think needs to be done to improve mental health in the workplace?
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