October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day organized by World Federation for Mental Health to raise awareness and end the stigma around mental health. Gradually but steadily, mental health at workplaces is becoming a topic of discussion worldwide. A WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.
Morra Aarons-Mele, the founder of Women Online, a Communication Firm, writes in 'We Need to Talk More About Mental Health at Work' for HBR Ascend, "In the twenty-first century, human capital is the most valuable resource in our economy. And though much has been done (rightly) to promote diversity at work, there's a giant hole when it comes to understanding how temperament and sentiment play into the trajectory of success."
She says that in terms of conversations around mental health and seeking required support, there needs to be 'more flexibility, sensitivity, and open-mindedness from employers'.
Citing example of EY (formerly Ernst and Young), which started a We Care program two years ago to educate employees about mental health, Ms. Aarons-Mele says, "...given the right support, employees who struggle with their mental health can do great work."
However, the stigma around mental health exists and makes sure that those in need of help do not seek it, which is why it becomes more important to create an inclusive and open environment.
The question is what steps managers or those in-charge can take to initiate mental health conversations and get the necessary help for employees that might need it.
Diana O'Brien, global CMO of Deloitte, and Jen Fisher, Deloitte's National Managing Director for Wellness in US, suggest five ways for Bosses to reduce the stigma of mental health at work.
1. Pay Attention To Employee's Language
Language plays an important part in stigmatizing mental health issues. A harmless comment like 'She's acting bi-polar today' may be normal to others but would be harmful to someone struggling with a mental health issue.
2. Rethink 'Sick Days'
While taking a sick day due to a physical illness is normal, there is hardly any provision anywhere for sick day in case of a mental illness. "We need to get more comfortable with the idea of suggesting and requesting days to focus on improving mental as well as physical health," say Ms. O'Brien and Ms. Fisher.
3. Encourage Conversation Around Mental Health
It is important for employees to feel safe about opening up on their struggles with mental health without the fear of judgement or exclusion. Leaders can encourage others to talk or open up by sharing their own stories or others' stories and explicitly encourage everyone to talk when feeling overwhelmed or in need.
4. Be Proactive
People in high-stress jobs often find coping mechanisms which is harmful in the long run. They say that Bosses need to do a better job of helping their employees connect to resources before stress leads to more serious problems.
5. Train People To Identify And Respond
Training and guiding employees and those in position of authority to identify signs of a mental illness and respond accordingly goes a long way in addressing issues of mental health and in creating a safe environment at work.
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