Mental Illness in the Workplace

Mental Illness in the Workplace

Mental illness is a topic that, quite frankly, doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.  It is still considered a somewhat taboo point of discussion, quickly shot down and brushed under the rug.  Unfortunately, this means that many people who struggle with such conditions do so in silence, for fear of being judged and criticized. Many people don’t mention their condition to their employers because they don’t want to be discriminated against. However, there are several steps that can be taken to help employees with mental illness.

Anxiety is cruel, a condition that plays games with your head. It’s so much more than just a case of nerves--it’s trying to focus on a task, while worrying about five other deadlines.  Its feeling guilty when taking any kind of break because so much needs to be done. It’s rehearsing what you’re going to say a hundred times, messing up, and obsessing about it for at least another week. This can obviously affect an employee’s performance in the workplace.  For someone with social anxiety, even a simple conversation can be overwhelming. In these cases, it is best to try and limit additional contact and refrain from having them give presentations unless absolutely necessary. Work itself can also add to general anxiety, due to excessive workloads and tight deadlines.  It’s important to make sure the work stays manageable and a reasonable amount of time is given for each project. If possible, allow designated areas for employees to recover from attacks and ground themselves. For employees with anxiety, make sure to participate in regular breathing exercises.

Depression comes in many forms, often pairing with anxiety. It can stem from traumas such as the loss of a loved one, or from sudden lifestyle changes.  Work can also add to this condition, particularly if the job is repetitive. Some noticeable signs include missing deadlines, constant exhaustion, changes in behavior, and frequently missing work. If employers notice these patterns in an employee, they should ask to speak to the person in private.  Let them know your concerns and encourage them to seek professional help.  

Although usually associated with veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone. Certain personal triggers can lead to episodes which may contain severe panic attacks, flashbacks, concentration problems, or disassociation. In order to minimize the chances of an episode, employers should make reasonable accommodations, as they should do with any disability. Each person has specific triggers, so it’s best to avoid generalizations.  Allow the employee the chance to discuss possible accommodations without pressuring them into discussing the reasons behind them. These could include a flexible work schedule or changes to a personal workstation.

These three conditions barely scratch the surface of mental illness. The most important step that can be taken is raising awareness.  Hold workplace discussions to help break the stigma. Understand that these conditions can be debilitating and require just as much attention as a physical disability.  Mental illness is never pleasant, but ignoring it can cause even greater problems. As a society we need to acknowledge mental illness and offer help rather than judgement.

Autor: Vanessa Hart

Editor: Nichole Jones


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