Executive Vitality™: Reversing the Stigma Of Mental Health Struggles

Executive Vitality™: Reversing the Stigma Of Mental Health StrugglesOne positive aspect of the new normal is a greater awareness many companies now have about mental health struggles people may be facing. As leaders, we can encourage appropriate conversations about mental health and related topics that carry many benefits. Bottom line is: you, your leaders, and valued employees are less likely to miss work, feel hopeless or helpless, quit jobs (or worse) … if mental health needs do not have to be hidden at work. Advocating for openness and honesty about mental health can tremendously benefit both your vitality and your employees’ vitality.

I recently heard about someone who was planning on quitting her job the day she turned 62 and qualified for early retirement. Not because she didn’t want to work anymore – she was good at her job and proud of her accomplishments. But because she struggled with debilitating anxiety and depression and called in sick so often, she assumed that her management would be happy to be rid of her. She wasn’t sure how she would manage on the meager benefit she would get from taking early retirement, but she was just so demoralized and embarrassed, the only bright light she’d had for the whole year was that, this year, she could retire.

But what actually happened is that, the day she informed her management that she was quitting unless they allowed her to cut her hours back to part-time, they agreed immediately. And she is even allowed to bring her therapy dog to work. She had to quit to find out that she was valued at work, and also to discover that she could get what she wanted just by asking for it. She was flabbergasted – and her boss would be equally flabbergasted if she knew how much this woman had suffered, thinking incorrectly that her management thought poorly of her.

Here is an interesting article called Is workplace stigma around mental health struggles changing? | bbc.com  which considers whether this stigma can be lifted or if some biases are simply too entrenched to dislodge. We at EXCN do not think any stigmas are so entrenched they cannot be dislodged through a concerted “top-down” approach. Corporate culture can shift, we have seen it happen, and it is to everyone’s benefit when it does, from the mail room to the shareholders – internal and external customers, C-suite, front line – everyone.

Opening up conversations about mental health concerns might feel awkward in the beginning. Here are five tips to help prioritize good mental health in the workplace:  

  1. Ensure employees have adequate resources at hand, e.g., an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  2. Let your workforce know that they can be honest about their mental health. Be sure they understand you mean this sincerely – there are no taboos.
  3. Ask for what you need and encourage others to do the same.
  4. If you need help and don’t feel comfortable talking about it in your work environment, don’t let that stop you from getting help. Here is a toll-free “Warm-line” Directory – free and confidential peer support.
  5. And always – be on the lookout for vitality-supporting actions and activities to incorporate into your day.

It might not happen overnight, but know that you can reverse stigmas at work, if you work at it.

Does your company value vitality? Is there an awareness that valuable human resources could be at their breaking point? What could you do in your company to help destigmatize discussions about mental health?

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