Today is World Mental Health Day. By some estimates, as many of half of us will deal with some level of mental illness in our lifetime. Depression, anxiety, mood disorders, addiction – all of these are forms of mental illness. For most of us the impact will be temporary. For far too many, mental illness will end their lives. Which is why bringing awareness to this issue has to be a priority for all of us. In a powerful essay, Lada Gaga cites truly heart wrenching statistics about mental health issues faced by adolescents and young adults, and pleads for compassion. Both her story and the website for the World Health Organization have listed some great information and resources, focused on this year’s theme of young people in mental health
But what about mental health at work? When Anthony Bourdain took his life earlier this year there were many articles and posts about keeping a vigilant eye out for signs of distress at work. Even though we can remind people in distress to raise her hand for help, we must remember that many of them are unable to do so because of the very condition that’s impacting them. But it’s not just about people with mental illness who are on the brink of suicide. Mental illness can sap your energy, make you irritable and distracted, and generally impact your productivity if not well-managed (Last year’s WHO theme was mental health at work, and has some great resources as well).
I had a chance to talk with Matt Mund last week, and his company, Total Brain is using neuroscience to help individuals and the medical community diagnose mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. But in the workplace, it can be used not to identify who has a mental illness (because who wants to take that examination at work?) but to offer real solutions for creating the conditions for everyone to be successful no matter what is happening with their brain chemistry. It’s not very useful to say to someone “hey, you have an anxiety disorder.” What would be useful is to say, based on what we know about how your brain processes things, here are some ways that you can create a work environment that’s more comfortable for you, and life hacks you can share with your coworkers that will help you communicate with them better.
Mental health at work should not be focused on categorizing people into “well” and “unwell”. It should be focused on finding ways to keep everyone productive and making the most of their time and efforts. It is important to keep your eye out for people on the brink, but it is just as important to have concrete ways of helping people handle their particular mental health needs and still be productive members of the team.
There are lots of companies out there looking to support health and wellness both mentally and physically. And plenty of assessments to understand behaviors, motivations, and how our brains process information. But what is really important is information on what to do to keep mental illness from derailing employee’s ability to live a whole and productive life. So, keep an eye out for each other this Mental Health Day, and stay focused on what you can do to create a healthy environment for yourself and those around you.