Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Workplace
Mental illness affects people of all walks of life. Twenty percent of Canadians will experience it personally in their lifetime, which means that chances are everyone will know someone who has - or has dealt with - a mental illness. Even though it touches the lives of most Canadians, many do not have a good understanding of exactly what mental illnesses are.
When we think of mental illness, a lot us of us would probably create a picture in our mind of tourettes syndrome, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia - think Russel Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”. The fact is that mental illnesses include any disease of the mind like mood disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
A look at the Situation
The recently released report “Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces” by the Conference Board of Canada was based on a survey of over 1,000 Canadian workers, many of whom were managers. They also conducted follow up interviews with many of those who were surveyed, the results of which highlighted:
- The prevalence of mental illness in Canada
- Why mental health is important
- How to manage employees with mental illnesses
- Strategies for helping the mentally ill to re-enter the workforce
Stirring the Pot
The release of this report generated a lot of media buzz on the topic. CBC.ca released an article on June 20th, which discussed the “Manager skill gap” found in the survey.
According to the report, the majority of managers said that they were comfortable discussing mental illness with their subordinates, and were confident with their abilities to accommodate and help mentally ill employees. However, the employees did not agree, indicating that their managers weren’t knowledgeable in mental health issues.
Furthermore, 44% of the managers surveyed did not have formal training in managing those with a mental illness.
The Ottawa Citizen released an article in response to the report as well. Their focus was on workers and the fear of having to discuss or admit their mental illness to their managers.
Regardless of your focus, mental health is an important subject to address in our discussions and education efforts. Good mental health has many benefits for the employee - and in turn the organization. Mental Health Works is an organization that can help companies that need to improve the way in which affected employees are accommodated. Their website highlights some of the many reasons why good mental health is beneficial:
- Reducing stress related absences
- Reducing the risks of other health issues
- Increasing productivity
- Improving innovation
- Reducing errors
- Increasing mental health awareness
- Clearly defining employees’ responsibilities
- Managing workloads
- Recognizing good work
- Promoting good work-life balance
- Promoting wellness
- Encouraging trust building
- Creating an environment that promotes communication
- Allowing as much flexibility as possible
- Providing opportunities for growth
- Increasing your knowledge of mental illnesses
And we suggest smiling more in the Workplace!
Keep An Eye Out
Monitoring your employees for early signs of mental illness is also important. While diagnosing should be left to health care professionals, it is still important to be aware of the early signs of mental illness, which, according to Mindful Employer’s “A practical guide to managing & supporting mental health in the workplace” includes:
- Being consistently late
- Decreased productivity
- Decreased engagement
- Fatigue and unexplainable pain
- Lower quality of work
- Not meeting deadlines
- Changes in personality
- Loss of sense of humour
- Increased use of substances
What Can I Do?
There are many ways co-workers can help a fellow employee with a mental illness. How about trying to:
- Ask how you can help
- Keep an open mind
- Direct employees to the appropriate resources available
The Canadian Mental Health Association also has excellent resources.
Do you feel comfortable speaking about mental illness in your organization and with your employees? Do you have a mental illness and would like to share your experiences?