May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to open up the dialogue with your employees about this once taboo topic. According to data from the National Network that provides information and guidance regarding the Americans with Disability Act, on average 18% of workers in the U.S. have reported suffering from a mental health problem at some point in the year. Mental illness has many faces and it can impact anyone, regardless of background, gender, race, age, or other demographic, Chances are, there are a few people on your team who are dealing with mental illness and you may not even know it.
There is a certain degree of shame and fear that surrounds mental illness. This can make it difficult for anyone to discuss mental illness with colleagues or supervisors. As a manager, it’s important to be able to provide a workplace that is both supportive and respectful — but it’s illegal to ask employees if they are dealing with mental illness.
How can managers encourage employees to talk about what they need to feel well without worrying about losing their jobs? How can managers bring up the subject of mental health without sounding like they are singling anyone out for negative attention?
Here are some guidelines for dealing with the delicate subject of mental illness in the workplace.
- Do bring up the subject of mental health and encourage all employees to seek support if they believe they may need help.
- Educate employees on what it feels like to deal with depression and other forms of mental illness from one’s personal experiences.
- Encourage employees to learn more about the company employee assistance program, which is 100% confidential and in most cases free to utilize.
- Recognize that employees need downtime to recuperate from stress, frustration and other mentally draining experiences at work. Enforce the paid time off policy.
- Intervene and plan fun team activities to blow off steam when tension is building or there are conflicts.
- Promote healthy lifestyle habits like getting a walk in each day, eating a healthy lunch, getting the right amount of sleep, and not taking any work home.
- If an employee discloses mental illness, keep this private and do not treat them differently. Encourage them to seek help and adjust their workload in the meantime.
- Pay attention to employees who suddenly start working away from the rest of the team. They may be experiencing conflicts or mental illness.
- Do seek help with the human resource department if you need accomodation to support your mental illness recovery. Or if you believe you have been discriminated against.
- Take the time to learn all you can about mental illness and ways to cope at work so you can remain productive.
- Avoid becoming a recluse at work. Participate in team activities, meetings, projects, and collaborations. Your contributions are valuable.
- Find out more information about the company’s employee assistance program and the health insurance to see what services you can recieve.
- Attend a support group with others who are dealing with mental health challenges.
- Locate a “safe space” somewhere in the workplace where you can go if you are overwhelmed with emotions or cannot cope. Let your supervisor know where this is.
- Work closely with your doctor or therapist during treatment to ensure a positive outcome.
- Take time to take care of yourself physically by eating healthy meals, getting plenty of rest, and exercising whenever possible.
- Manage your time better at work and avoid taking on too many projects. Hand off some work to others if you can.
- Schedule a day off at least once per month to reduce feelings of burnout and overwhelm. Take advantage of your paid time off benefits.
In a perfect world, employees and employers could speak freely about mental health matters. The ADA views mental illness as a disability, therefore no employer can discriminate or treat you badly because of it. At the same time, employees must maintain certain productivity goals so they need to get help if they are struggling with mental illness symptoms. That’s why working with human resources, who understands the rules, can provide the support both sides need.
As we move into the next century, our society is learning more about the causes of mental illness and there are more treatments available to support wellness. Employers can do their part by being educated and supportive to all employees to make their experience at work a positive one.