Mental Health – A Personal Story
Nearly a quarter (23%) of a panel of U.S. workers and managers in a survey indicated they have received a diagnosis of depression at some time in their life and 40% of those respondents reported taking time off from work – an average of 10 days a year – as a result of their diagnosis. 58% of survey participants who had received a diagnosis of depression indicated they had not informed their employer. 49% of survey participants who had received a diagnosis of depression felt telling their employer about their diagnosis would put their job at risk and 24% felt it was too risky to share with their employer, given the economic climate.
I can relate to all of the above. Almost ten years ago, I suffered a major episode of depression and anxiety, caused by both work-related stress and family issues which resulted in my doctor signing me off work for a month. When I returned to work, I got comments from some members of the leadership team along the lines of me “being brave to come back to work, considering…”. Apparently, I had not been expected to return. Over the next year or so, every opportunity for me to progress at work was blocked. An additional layer of reporting was placed between me and the CFO.
Despite the support I received from my colleagues and the fact that the quality of my work had not diminished, the CFO saw me as being weak, unstable and unreliable. It became obvious that as long as the current CFO and CEO were running the company, there was no prospect of me developing my career there. I started looking for a new job.
I long ago accepted that my brain is wired differently and is chemically imbalanced. Just like any other chronic medical condition such as diabetes or asthma, I need to take medication to correct that chemical imbalance in my brain. I have also had counselling which gave me tools to help me work through the times when I feel particularly overwhelmed by life events.
If I had not revealed my condition, you would be none the wiser. I am not sad all the time, I do not dissolve into tears when faced with a stressful client situation, there is no impact on the quality of my work or my sense of judgement. And although some of my colleagues may have questioned my sanity, it was for entirely different reasons e.g., volunteering to be on a HOA board or running a marathon!
But there is a stigma attached with a mental illness that does not seem to apply with other medical conditions. And it is a medical condition, not something that is all in my head and that I just need to get over.
Around the same time that I had my major episode, the CEO of the Lloyds Banking Group, a major UK bank, took eight weeks off work due to work related stress from the on-going impact of the 2008 financial crisis on the bank. Antonio Horta-Osorio returned to his job and returned the bank to stability. He subsequently implemented many initiatives around improving the mental health of all the bank’s employees. His experience was widely reported – there was no attempt to hide what he was going through and he had the full support of the bank’s Board. That is what encouraged me to be open about my condition at my place of work, but obviously with very different consequences!
What Can Employers Do?
As with any initiative related to inclusivity, it is imperative that leadership takes a sincere and genuine interest in the mental health of their employees. Most employees with either chronic or episodic mental health issues will not need any additional support or accommodations from their employer. They mainly just need to know that they will not be stigmatized or treated differently.
Almost everyone has experienced some level of depression or anxiety, especially in the last year. But the prevalence of the experience will translate into a decrease in stigma only if people, especially people in power, share their experiences. Being honest about mental health struggles as a leader opens the door for employees to feel comfortable talking about mental health challenges of their own.
Prior to the pandemic, the biotech firm Roche Genentech produced videos in which senior leaders talked about their mental health. They were shared on the company intranet as part of a campaign called #Let’sTalk. The company then empowered “mental health champions” – a network of employees trained to help build awareness for mental health – to make videos about their experiences, which were used as part of the company’s various mental health awareness campaigns.
Apart from company leadership sharing their own experiences with mental illness, other actions employers can take include:
- Make mental health self-assessment tools available to all employees.
- Offer free or subsidized clinical screenings for depression from a qualified mental health professional, followed by directed feedback and clinical referral when appropriate.
- Offer health insurance with no or low out-of-pocket costs for depression medications and mental health counseling.
- Provide free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, counseling, or self-management programs.
- Distribute materials, such as brochures, fliers, and videos, to all employees about the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and opportunities for treatment.
- Host seminars or workshops that address depression and stress management techniques, like mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation, to help employees reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus and motivation.
- Create and maintain dedicated, quiet spaces for relaxation activities.
- Provide managers with training to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and professionals.
- Give employees opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress.
How to Handle Mental Health Issues in the Hiring Process
By Vira Trevino-Garcia
Although the latest statistics say at least one is six U.S. adults live with a Mental Illness Disorder, it remains the biggest gray area in recruitment. Those numbers do not even include the impact COVID has taken on our mental wellness. And yet unfortunately, even as we make great strides toward being tolerant and more supportive of diversity, mental health remains the area that recruiters and hiring managers know the least about when it comes to the hiring process. Mental health disorders are not easily identifiable during an interview and because of the history of the stigma associated with them, most candidates are not willing to discuss this. Imagine what you would say if a candidate asked you “how would you react if I told you I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder?” during an interview. Do you feel prepared to address that?
In order to be sensitive to what may be a complex situation, you have to reserve judgement about the disorder and focus on the candidate’s achievements and positive traits. If the candidate decides to open up about their illness, have a candid conversation about what you would expect as an employer within the framework of the job description, and allow them to express their thoughts on the role. Do not make any assumptions or question their ability to handle the role.
If a situation does arise that brings a candidate or current employee’s mental health into focus, employers should be prepared to respond with diligence and care. Having an awareness and showing that you understand it is not a weakness goes a long way toward building a welcoming and inclusive culture. Leadership teams should also be open about their own personal stories of mental health challenges. Testimonials like that will help candidates and employees feel confident they will be supported. Evaluate your company’s mental health wellness support and share information about those programs with candidates, always ensuring there is somewhere that employees can communicate confidentially with them about mental health.
The negative stigma attached to mental health remains a significant challenge, and the subject of mental health awareness should be included in company trainings. Creating a culture of wellness as a priority will help to attract and retain candidates that are looking for a caring, supportive organization where employees feel empowered to discuss who they are.
In this month’s newsletter, we are turning to the experts! Thank you to Dr. Estrelita Bruce for agreeing to be part of our learning process this month.
Name: Dr. Estrelita Bruce, PHD, ANMCC, LCC
Occupation: CEO, A New Me Counseling & Consulting
Education: BA, Psychology, Prairie View A&M University
MS: Juvenile Psychology, Prairie View A&M University
MS: Professional Counseling, Grand Canyon University
PhD: Counseling, South Florida College
How do employers create a culture of trust and support for their employees to reveal any mental health struggles?: Employers have the opportunity to create a culture of trust and support for their employees related to mental health struggles through mental health awareness. Employers who are open to the benefits of mental health wellness can help increase inclusion and destigmatize mental health. An employer who promotes a culture that normalizes mental health challenges for their employees can decrease shame in the workplace which can optimize employee performance. This type of culture can communicate support and trust. Employers have a great opportunity to show their employees that they (the employer) care about employee’s overall wellbeing. This way the employer can help employees see their mental health struggles as just that, a struggle. Mental health struggles are not synonymous to a or should be seen as a weakness.
Serious mental illness (SMI) substantially interferes with or limits an individual’s ability to participate in major life activities. This is what most people picture when they hear the term “mental illness”. Serious mental illness affects 13.1 million adults, aged 18 and older, or about 5.2% of all U.S. adults. Prevalence is higher among young adults aged 18 to 25 than other age groups and higher among women than men.
Any mental illness (AMI) impairment may be mild, moderate, or non-existent. An estimated 51.5 million adults, or about 20.6%, live with mental illness in the U.S.
Mental health is a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior and mood. Mental illness is an unhealthy deterioration of thinking, feeling, behavior, or mood. All people have mental health. About one-fifth of American adults have a mental illness, either episodically or chronically.
Behavioral health is an umbrella term used for mental health and substance abuse disorders. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines behavioral health as “the promotion of mental health, resilience and well-being; the treatment of mental and substance use disorders; and the support of those who experience and/or are in recovery from these conditions, along with their families and communities.”
The vcfo VIBE Committee wants all team members to be included and represented. Click here for a diversity calendar to see a wide variety of cultural and religious events from around the world.
Should you wish to do further research on your own time, we have provided recommended reading:
- COVID-19’s Impact on Mental Health and Workplace Well-being from the NIHCM Foundation
- Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Employers and Employees by Gill Hasson & Donna Butler
This is a publication of the vcfo VIBE Committee.
We are stronger when we are equal.