Our mental and emotional well-being is just as vital as our physical well-being. So often ignored until it gets too severe to ignore. So often belittled by society as some sort of weakness they are immune to and only the weak are susceptible to. The stigma for mental illness is pervasive.
When we are chronically ill physically and have a mental illness on top of that it can really complicate our coping strategies and treatment. Both have to be treated together or it seems like neither is well treated if one is ignored. Chronic pain for example, treatment would not have been effective for me, at all, had I not done therapy and then taken medication for my Major Depressive Disorder.
The economic consequences of the pandemic are already being felt, as companies let staff go in an effort to save their businesses, or indeed shut down completely.
Given past experience of emergencies, it is expected that the need for mental health and psychosocial support will substantially increase in the coming months and years. Investment in mental health programmes at the national and international levels, which have already suffered from years of chronic underfunding, is now more important than it has ever been.
This is why the goal of this year’s World Mental Health Day campaign is increased investment in mental health.
Theme this year is “ Mental health for all, greater investment – greater access”.
We have limited mental health resources. Mostly because society doesn’t value or see mental health the same way or as important as physical health. So the money doesn’t exactly flow to it as much. This limits treatment and access to treatment.
With the pandemic more and more people will need access to these limited resources. That is why WHO is focusing on Access and Investment into mental health programs. This is an area we need to invest in for the health and well-being of society as a whole; pandemic or not.
- Work is good for mental health but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems.
- Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
- Harassment and bullying at work are commonly reported problems, and can have a substantial adverse impact on mental health.
- There are many effective actions that organizations can take to promote mental health in the workplace; such actions may also benefit productivity.
- For every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity.
Globally, an estimated 264 million people suffer from depression, one of the leading causes of disability, with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Unemployment is a well-recognized risk factor for mental health problems, while returning to, or getting work is protective. A negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity. Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.WHO: MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE
As a society we have to actually think of what we value and what we Want to value. Mental well-being should he high on that list but it is not. Accommodations and acceptance in the workplace for mental illness are reluctant at Best and discriminatory at worst. Taking a leave of absence for mental illness is seen as something not approved of by others. And people then stigmatize you when you come back. I knew of someone who came back from a leave for partial hours and people called her ‘unstable and crazy’. It made me extremely reluctant to mention or get help for my own depression issues, which was a huge mistake on my part. But when you see and hear the stigma someone gets and watch as they try to literally push her out of a job- you feel your job security would be at risk, that the job environment would turn toxic to you, and that people would then see you as ‘crazy’.
Not a lot of sympathy or empathy to go around. Not a lot of comprehension of how common mental illness is.
When my Major Depressive Disorder became known, due to the fact I had a suicide attempt, it made it very difficult in the workplace. I already dealt with a toxic work environment due to being chronically ill. Unmanaged chronic pain made me miss way too much work and go on too many leaves. Employers begin to see you as a liability. They want to get rid of you but can’t legally fire you so they try all sorts of things to try to make you Want to leave. Not all workplaces, for sure. But toxic ones, yes. And when you develop a mental illness- working in such an environment and the stress of that doesn’t actually Help one cope with illness and pain, just makes it significantly worse- you are seen as more of a liability.
You get sicker. The stress builds. More absenteeism. More guilt. More depression. Less capacity to cope… worse treatment at work… and the cycle spirals down to threats and ultimatums.
- inadequate health and safety policies;
- poor communication and management practices;
- limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work;
- low levels of support for employees;
- inflexible working hours; and
- unclear tasks or organizational objectives.
Personally, I had great co-workers who supported me when I needed it. Higher ups? Not so much. My environment became more and more hostile with more and more ultimatums. It was a horror. And I think working there with unmanaged pain and the high chronic stress made depression inevitable. It was the profound despair of having to go to work the next day in pain, and dealing with All That, that triggered my suicide attempt. And people would say why didn’t you just quit and find something else? How could I? Untreated I couldn’t make it through a probationary period without missing a day. I was not reliable or dependable anymore. I would be fired. So I was trapped and I knew it, no matter what they tried to get me to leave, I couldn’t.
Imagine I hadn’t endured that. Imagine being able to take mental illness sick days without guilt or stigma. Imagine having employers motivate you and point you in the direction of any resources to help you in HR with mental illness? Imagine them supporting you while you learn to cope and take advantage of those resources. Imagine being able to do flexible hours for a time. Or work from home partly. Things that may help in the short term while you get treatment. Imagine being able to take time off during the day to see your psychologist or therapist rather than trying to find one that will fit you in in the evenings… if you have any energy at the point to even see them.
Imagine all the things an employer could do. How they could respond. And don’t.
It doesn’t surprise me because they take a dislike to anyone with a chronic illness that needs accommodation and may not just ‘recover’ fast enough or with one leave of absence because situations with chronic illness and chronic pain can be complicated to manage and treat. Assuming they give you accommodation. They seem so reluctant to do so. I was turned down for every suggestion I made. For an HR assessment of my office to help with chronic pain even. I was told ‘I didn’t have a physical disability’ and I assume she meant ‘visible’ or ‘well-known’ like in a wheelchair or deaf or something else they could comprehend, rather than something that was disabling that they simply didn’t care to help accommodate me for.
And it is through the workplace, in Canada, we get insurance for things like psychologists and for leaves of absence. I was denied some short term leaves. No idea why. There was loads of evidence why it was necessary since by that time every medical professional and psychologist said I shouldn’t be working- period. But also there is the issue of psychologists. With my insurance there was only a few visits covered and I couldn’t really afford it otherwise, even with psychologists that stagger their rates. There was a matter of When I could go too, since I was working. So cost was a factor. Finding the capacity to get in after hours another issue.
When I went to the pain clinic they offer a psychologist. And he was awesome. Also free. And benefited me immensely. I also saw their psychiatrist and was put on the medication that literally stabilizes me quite well. But it took more than a year to get into the pain clinic. And when I went down to part time (due to being unreliable full time) the schedule at that time was only made a week in advance so impossible for me to schedule appointments to see him. So I had to stop. And that was not good for me at all.
So I definitely believe accessibility to resources is vital. And that employers guide employees to any internal resources they have and help with any accommodations they need. Because mental illness if not treated can really snowball on you. And when your employer turns on you instead of assisting you, it can just make things so much worse. Man, I can’t even describe how bad it Can get. But I can say that place broke me. It broke something inside of me. And it destroyed my self-worth. It took years to recover from it.
I feel sad for the person I was and the situation I was in for so long. It didn’t have to be that way. I feel sad I felt trapped in that situation. I feel sad that my health declined so very much there; mentally and physically. That my well-being and sense of self diminished so very much. I wish I had the resiliency then I have now. I wish I had access to the things I had later, then. I wish I knew I could get out and there were options. That it would have improved my quality of life immensely to be out of that situation instead of remaining and getting so much worse. So much time lost. So much suffering. So much despair. It was a horrific time in my life that I will Never Accept Again. I wish I didn’t have to learn the hard lessons I did.
However, it happened. And I recovered slowly with therapy and medication. I have developed a resiliency with my chronic illnesses I really did lack then. Certainly all that happened was not on my employer solely. They just made considerable effort to make things a whole lot worse. I was struggling with lack of treatment and it was very difficult to manage work while trying all these treatments, none of which worked. Add a whole lot of pressure and stress to someone struggling just to get through the day, and it is not a good thing at all. But I think it happens a lot in workplaces. And I know it happened to other people I knew there and so many other places.
It is rare to hear exceptionally good stories about employers when you are chronically ill. They exist though. And those stories of how their workplaces assist the entire well-being of their staff is so awesome I wish those company ideals would spread. And maybe the more awareness and the less stigma there is, it will change the environment and how people are treated in the work space.
I would hope with all the stresses of the pandemic on employees than employers would begin to grasp that taking care of the well-being of your staff with accommodations and any services your company offers benefits all your staff in the long-term. Reducing stress and chronic stress and therefore illness overall.
- Protect mental health by reducing work–related risk factors.
- Promote mental health by developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees.
- Address mental health problems regardless of cause.
Building on this, a guide from the World Economic Forum highlights steps organizations can take to create a healthy workplace, including:
- Awareness of the workplace environment and how it can be adapted to promote better mental health for different employees.
- Learning from the motivations of organizational leaders and employees who have taken action.
- Not reinventing wheels by being aware of what other companies who have taken action have done.
- Understanding the opportunities and needs of individual employees, in helping to develop better policies for workplace mental health.
- Awareness of sources of support and where people can find help.
Interventions and good practices that protect and promote mental health in the workplace include:
- implementation and enforcement of health and safety policies and practices, including identification of distress, harmful use of psychoactive substances and illness and providing resources to manage them;
- informing staff that support is available;
- involving employees in decision-making, conveying a feeling of control and participation; organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance;
- programmes for career development of employees; and
- recognizing and rewarding the contribution of employees.
It is entirely possible to foster a healthy work environment. I have in fact, heard of this unicorn, so it exists. And it is entirely possible to treat employees with mental illnesses or chronic illnesses or disabilities with dignity and respect in the workplace. I encourage employers to consider and implement the WHO recommendations into their company and endure their management is properly trained to handle situations they may not otherwise handle… well.
And I wish companies would consider mental well-being as an important factor. Especially during these exceptionally stressful times we are in.