There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to the modern workforce. We build benefits around it, establish perks to improve it, and even tout it for recruiting efforts, yet it still remains a massive issue for a number of reasons: Mental health among working adults is deteriorating, while the stigma around treatment is rising.
In a recent survey from online therapy company TAO Connect, 85 percent of working adults reported feeling overwhelmed or experiencing negative feelings that interfered with their ability to work. While 81.9 percent of people said they felt comfortable or very comfortable asking their boss for time off for physical medical reasons, only 16.9 percent said they would be comfortable doing the same for a mental health matter.
How have things gotten so bad?
The State of Mental Health at Wortk
Ninety-six percent of respondents said there is a stigma around mental health treatment in their offices. This may be due in part to the stagnancy of traditional treatment methods combined with a fear of judgement.
The pressures and stresses of everyday work are increasing among employees, but people are scared to ask for help. They feel their managers or coworkers might look at them differently, and they find it hard to fit therapy into their lifestyles.
The survey also looked into why people don’t visit mental health counselors when dealing with debilitating work stress. About half feel therapy is too expensive, and a little less than half said treatment doesn’t fit into their schedules. As a result, the modern American workforce is suffering in silence.
We focus a lot on how to improve our own individual well-being, but we don’t focus as much on strengthening the health of the workforce as a whole.
The first step is to recognize the problem. Even if both candidates and current employees love their jobs, stress will always be a factor in their performance. The key is in how organizations handle such stress and the resulting mental health effects.
What Employers Can Do
Now might be a good time to examine the perks and benefits you offer employees. Ask yourself whether these things truly promote your staff’s overall wellness or simply serve as branding ploys.
The perks that establish loyalty and boost morale in the office are the ones that go beyond the obvious. For example, if you know that working adults are hesitant to ask for time off for therapy, consider implementing mental health days or flexible scheduling so employees can utilize standard counseling hours freely. Establish a culture of openness to let your employees know mental illness and treatment will be handled the same as physical ailments.
What Recruiters Can Do
Speak openly and don’t judge. First, talk with employers about their wellness policies. Then, talk about the possibility of hiring someone who may have a mental illness. Chances are many employers already have at least one staff member with a diagnosed (or undiagnosed) mental disorder; they just don’t know about it.
As the connection between employer and potential employee, you often serve as the first point of contact for each. Take care to work with both parties to make sure there are no miscommunications about workload, responsibilities, and hours. This way, there’s less chance the job’s physical and mental requirements will exceed expectations, which in turn mitigates the risk of a new employee ending up overwhelmed and stressed.
What Candidates/Employees Can Do
Remember the power of self-help tools. Traditional therapy is effective, but it may not work with your schedule. If you feel your mental health is suffering at work, know you always have options.
Personally speaking, I’ve dedicated much of my career to finding ways to make therapy more accessible. My focus is now on supplemental online therapy people can do on their own time – an option that may work for many of today’s busy professionals.
Apart from treatment, talk to your team if you feel excessively stressed beyond everyday inconveniences. Have an open discussion about how you can help one another. If you do decide to take a mental health day, use it wisely by doing things that will genuinely help you feel better – e.g., writing, cooking, exercising, or talking to a counselor.
No matter how you fit into the workplace, your mental health is important and should be treated seriously. Keeping the conversation open will help reduce disparities, minimize stigmatization, and increase accessibility to effective treatment.
Dr. Sherry Benton is founder and chief science officer of TAO Connect.