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Why Mental Health at Work Matters

Updated: May 18, 2022

Mental health impacts more than our sleep, appetite and thoughts - it impacts our relationships and how we interact with others. It influences how we receive and send out information. Do we get defensive? Do we shut down and go quiet? Do we get snippy or aggressive when we are stressed? These things are detrimental to the modern workforce, especially when we have no awareness that we are doing them. Historically, mental health initiatives have been geared to those that are struggling, and while that is important, it’s not enough. Mental health matters and programming should be geared to the entire workforce, not just those that are diagnosed with a mental health issue or are dealing with something at the moment. When we make mental health a natural and expected part of the conversation, we normalize that all of us- at one time or another are going to be struggling. This opens the door to naming the problem and getting to a more productive conversation based on resilience. If people are ashamed to admit that they are depressed or anxious, they are not able to get the help they need to feel better.

When I see people in the office, I often encourage them to think of an episode of anxiety (or depression, or you fill in the blank) like a broken leg. What would happen if you ignored a broken leg? Not very many people are going to do that because of the pain and how it impacts your ability to walk and do the things you normally would do. If you ignore a broken leg it is not going to heal correctly and the long term effects could be serious - you may walk with a limp, deal with chronic pain or not run that marathon you were planning on. However, if you get the help you need - go to the doctor, get an xray, wear the cast, rest, and rehab - the chances of long term effects greatly diminishes. For the most part, this is the same for many mental health concerns. Quality mental health treatment works on developing self-awareness and skills to identify what is going on, work through it and come out the other side having grown and learned - ultimately becoming more resilient.

Many times our family, friends and spiritual communities provide us with support through tough times by being able to have hard conversations or offer some patience and understanding as we go through whatever it is that we are experiencing. Now more than ever, the workplace is going to have to become one of those organic supports.

Post-pandemic people are being more open about what they are going through, but many businesses are not equipped with the right language or skills to deal with this. I would argue, too, that most people don’t have the language or awareness to understand what is going on. This has left business owners and Human Resource offices scratching their heads with how to manage an increase in absences, decreased focus, negativity, lack of investment and presenteeism - showing up for work but not really being there. A great place for businesses to start is to look at creating a comprehensive and humanizing way to address mental health. Not only will it be a necessity, as our external stressors increase, the future workforce is going to demand

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