Fostering A Work Environment That Is Open To Discussing Mental Health Issues

By Melissa Lobo

A young doctor beginning her Masters in Public Health at a prestigious University in Asia was pleasantly surprised to find a scholarly environment that was highly accommodating to mental health issues of its students and staff. The reason this was so surprising to her was that in the hinterlands of the same country, people living with mental health conditions are still shunned and are subject to stigma by rural folk, most especially the older members of these communities. Many people in that developing nation have still not come to realize that mental illness is just like any illness, and could befall anyone in the same manner as diseases like diabetes, respiratory infections, or even broken ankles do.

A Better Understanding of Mental Health

In the past couple of decades, the World Health Organization has made significant headway in making people and healthcare institutions regard mental illness as a medical condition that needs appropriate attention, and not as a social phenomenon that does little more than pique the fascination and curiosity of onlookers. In fact, the 2017 observance of World Health Day focused on a call for supportive community environments that would engage people suffering from depression and mental health conditions, and speak openly with them about these issues.

While this may all seem so wonderful and accommodating, many workplaces are far from being as enlightened about mental health conditions that their personnel may be living with. Sadly, most people still associate mental health problems with insanity, and still tend to describe people with such conditions as crazy, mad, loony, nutty, bonkers, loopy, and use many other such derogatory or even mocking terms.

As a result, people living with these problems do their best to conceal their conditions, lest they be subject to ridicule or even discrimination. Guarding a mental health condition like some kind of dark secret is the last thing one should do towards trying to address the problem, as such suppression often exacerbates the condition or even creates more mental health problems.

Indeed, our society, with all its technological advances, has a long way to go before realizing a widespread corporate culture in which a worker with a mental health condition can feel comfortable with her colleagues, and speak openly about such issues so she can work towards addressing any problems such disorders may be causing her. This would require a bit of evolution beyond the obtuse societal attitudes towards mental illness of the past which treated patients with disdain, and an almost accusatory branding as perpetrators of some evil deed that caused them to suffer such illnesses.

This might not come as too much of a shock when we recall how archaic societies believed left-handed people were evil monstrosities, and recall also how some other societies even believed that all women were intrinsically evil simply because they were “different” from men. Contemporary understanding of the human mind and personality is more inclined to believe that ALL people are somewhat different from each other, and there is no “norm” on which to base what is normal and what is not.

Mental Health and the Corporate Landscape

There are encouraging lights on the horizon, however, since a growing number of companies are working towards creating a corporate culture in which mental health conditions are regarded with the same matter-of-fact acceptance as any other health condition an employee may be living with. A worker who files for sick leave to address her mental health issues should not be looked down upon or red-flagged as a corporate liability any more than a worker who files for sick leave due to an allergic reaction or a hypertensive episode would be.

This growing understanding of mental health has resulted in encouraging reforms and breakthroughs such as inclusion of mental health care in corporate insurance or health maintenance packages. It has also resulted in bold and innovative reforms in workplaces, as they are now designed to be more ergonomic and less stressful for workers. Social enterprise has recently ventured into the realm of Workplace Mental Health in which organizations are encouraged to develop more enlightened company policies, introduce advocacy and training programs, and equip managers and human resource personnel with the necessary skills to uphold the well-being of workers.

However, whether or not mental health care services or institutionalized counseling groups and sessions are present in one’s workplace, it is important to instill an industrial culture that fosters frank and unrestricted discussion about one’s mental health issues with one’s peers, superiors, and subordinates at work.

We should be able to share what we are going through in our mental issues with the same candor as we can discuss back pains, allergic reactions, pregnancy difficulties, and any other condition we are experiencing. We should be able to casually talk about our visits to our psychiatrists or therapists in the same candid and casual manner by which we discuss our sessions with a chiropractor or a dental appointment.

In the case of mental health issues, such open discussion is not just office drinking fountain chit chat. It is an important part of the process of healing, or even just coping with one’s unique condition. It should not be surprising to realize how many people around us are actually dealing with some mental health issue. Some estimates peg it as one in every four people working in an office.

It should be understood that mental health problems are not limited to severe conditions such a schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, but even such seemingly benign states such as anxiety or depression. It should also be understood that such people do not belong to an exclusive club because anybody at some time or another can suffer mental disorders, even without realizing it.

Being aware that one is suffering from a mental health disorder is the first major step towards addressing the problem. This will never happen if the person suppresses this knowledge, not only among workmates, but even with herself. We wouldn’t have to suffer self-denial, or merely attempt to “suck it up” when faced with mental or psychiatric problems if our work environment was a safe zone in which workmates are open and receptive to helping us deal with such issues.

Here’s hoping the trend towards developing work cultures that foster helpful discussions about mental health problems of employees continues to increase as more and more company presidents and CEOs become enlightened on these issues.

Resources:
http://wmhp.cmhaontario.ca/

https://www.inc.com/drew-hendricks/mental-health-in-the-workplace-in-2017.html

http://www.workmentalhealth.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa Lobo is a young and energetic writer, a mom to a sweet little boy, and a fur-mom to two perfect pooches. Before becoming the Associate Content Director for Project Female, she was a journalist specializing in topics related to women in politics and policy affecting women.

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