Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental health and the workplace
The importance of mental health in the workplace cannot be overstated—although it is often downplayed or even ignored by employers or others involved in the workforce. The mental health of employees, in this context, refers to potential mental health problems which may be caused by mental disorders, factors related to personality, or personal issues which can affect mental health. Mental health can have a noticeable or even major impact in the workplace because it can dramatically affect work performance as well as employee to employee, and employee to employer, relationships. For this reason, ignoring mental health can lead to numerous problems and issues which may require employer intervention or even further invention from an outside source. When an employee is negatively affected by their mental health, it can affect numerous aspects in the workplace.
One aspect is work performance itself. When someone is suffering from a negative mental health problem, they may find it difficult to concentrate or focus, difficult to finish their tasks, and so on—they may even begin to come in late for work or miss it entirely. Employees may perform their tasks poorly, they may not meet quotas, and other consequences which result in an overall lowered work performance for an individual or even a group. Another aspect in the workplace which is often affected by mental health problems are workplace relationships. Many mental health problems can cause strains in relationships in the workplace, such as stress between employees, between employees and their employers, or even between employees and customers. An individual may become emotional or moody with co-workers, causing strain; their impacted performance may result in strain between the individual and their employer due to dissatisfaction with their work; the individual may even begin to perform poorly when interacting with customers, resulting not only in a poor performance but a possible loss of those customers for the company. When these problems are left untreated or unnoticed, they often escalate until more noticeable or dramatic consequences occur—something that no employer wants to deal with, which is why employers should strive to solve mental health problems in the workplace before they reach these heights.
Current research on the subject of mental health in the work force has uncovered a startlingly high number of employees who have reported mental health problems. A result from the United States National Comorbidity Survey concluded that about 18% of employed Americans ages 15 to 54 experienced at least one symptom of a mental health problem in the month prior to the survey. Some mental health professionals believe that these numbers will only continue to rise in the coming decades as part of an overall trend which indicates that mental health problems—or at least, professional recognition of mental health problems—is on the increase.
Symptoms and signs of mental health issues in the workplace
A recent study on factors which cost businesses the most in terms of time and money, in which over 30,000 employees were surveyed, depression ranked as the number one most costly health condition--anxiety, another mental health problem, ranked fifth. From this study, it was concluded that mental health problems cause both direct and indirect costs to employers. Depression may indirectly cost an employer because a depressed employee has lower productivity than an employee without this mental health problem. Depression may directly cost an employer when an individual seeks treatment, such as therapy or medication, for their condition.
Employers and employees should be aware of symptoms and signs which could indicate that someone in the workplace has a mental health problem, especially if this problem is negatively affecting the individual or those around them. However, it is important for both employees and employers to recognize that the signs and symptoms of mental health problems in the workplace can vary from signs and symptoms of these same problems outside of the workplace. This discrepancy occurs because certain problems may manifest themselves differently when they occur in a workplace or work related environment.
One excellent example of the discrepancy between mental health symptoms outside of the workplace and inside the workplace is depression. Outside of the workplace, depression is likely to manifest itself in an overall low mood and general sadness. Inside the workplace, however, depression will manifest itself in workplace specific behaviors. For example, depression may cause an employee to be noticeably irritable when talking to co-workers or receiving instructions from their managers. Another common manifestation of depression in employees is physical pains, such as back aches or shoulder pain. Depression can also cause low productivity, or a general apathy towards completing work which they would otherwise strive to complete.
Depression takes a toll on everyone involved in the workplace: the employee experiencing depression, their coworkers who may be affected by their changed mood and behaviors, and their employer who may be losing money and time due to the negative workplace behaviors which have manifested themselves because of depression.
Employers and employees should be trained to look for workplace behaviors which may be manifestations of mental illness. When an employee is performing inadequately, employers should look into their individual case—rather than assuming they are simply lazy or poor at their work—to determine whether or not their work performance may have an underlying mental health cause.
The toughest problem facing both employees and employers who are dealing with mental health problems is treatment. Treatment for mental health problems is notoriously low, especially among people with inadequate or no health insurance, as typical treatments—medications and therapy—can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The best way that employers can solve a mental health crisis in their workplace is by providing mental health care for their employees and ensuring that they are treated for conditions, including mental health conditions that can negatively impact themselves, their fellow employees, and the company.