No matter whether we’re in the middle of an important meeting at work or hiding under the covers at home, we are complete human beings 100% of the time. Intelligent, professional humans who are capable of accomplishing incredible feats, but who also have minds and hearts full of emotions–And not all of them are sunshine and rainbows. But the mainstream idea of “professionalism” tells us that we must repress this part of ourselves in order to succeed in our careers. At work, mental health doesn’t seem to have a place.
For example, the US Department of Labor defines professionalism as “conducting oneself with responsibility, integrity, accountability, and excellence…communicating effectively and appropriately and always finding a way to be productive.” So what option does that leave us when we’re not feeling so excellent, or don’t have the capacity to be as productive as usual?
It’s an awkward topic to address. With mental health and mental illness still being relatively “taboo” topics in our society, we may feel uncomfortable admitting that we’re struggling, especially in the workplace where we may fear discrimination. That’s why at Indicius, as part of our “InDiversity” series of workshops, we decided to talk about mental health, its impact on our work, and how we can take care of ourselves and each other in the workplace. Because we know a healthy workplace cares for the health of their team — Both mental and physical. Here are a few reasons why we think it’s important:
According to this article by FHE Health, “pretending mental illness doesn’t exist is actually more likely to exacerbate the problem, leading to worse results.” Think about it: If you feel like you have a hide a part of yourself for 8 hours per day, that can cause a lot of stress — not to mention you’re probably not comfortable asking for help.
If you feel you can be open about your emotional struggles, on the other hand, whether you have a diagnosed mental illness or not, just think of all the potential positive outcomes: Increased support from colleagues, more likelihood of seeking professional help, more likelihood of reaching out to leadership for accommodations at work, and less stress caused by the worry that you will be “found out” as having a mental health issue.
As I mentioned: If your workplace and leadership is presented as a safe place to be honest about mental health struggles, team members will feel more comfortable reaching out for help when they’re struggling — Be it a listening ear or a concrete accommodation to facilitate their work. Not only will this support and accommodation help with their mental state, but it can also help them be more successful in their work than they would be without the accommodation.
Picture this: A person with social anxiety must facilitate a workshop on Zoom, but it increases their anxiety to know people are looking at them when they speak in public. A potential accommodation would be them having their camera turned off so that they can feel more comfortable speaking to the group. This way, they can successfully facilitate the workshop without the stress caused by their condition. Accommodating your team’s needs benefits everyone involved.
What I think is the most important part of having an open work culture when it comes to mental health is that it makes people feel that their colleagues and leadership really care for and value them as people, not just for their work and “professionalism.” Workplace culture consultants at Investors In People note a study by the American Psychological Association which found that “feeling valued at work was linked to better physical and mental health, as well as higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation.”
It’s intuitive if you think about it. As humans, connection with others is essential to our wellbeing, so it comes as no surprise that we seek this connection in the workplace as well as in our personal lives. Talking about mental health at work lets the team know that their leadership cares about them and wants the best for each individual. The benefit of this for the company is just an extra perk!
The reason that people are often uncomfortable talking about mental health or admitting they’re struggling is because of the stigma associated with it — The assumption that anyone who seeks psychological help is “crazy” or unfit to have a job. The truth is, 1 in 4 people in the world will suffer a mental illness or neurological disorder at some point in their lives and nearly 1 in 5 adults in the USA are living with one right now. This means that a huge percentage of the working population of the world goes to work every day with their mental illness. Why should so many people have to suffer in silence?
By talking more openly about mental health and our personal experiences, we can begin to break this stigma. We can better care for ourselves and for each other, and work towards a healthier world — Together.