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Improve Your Workplace for Employees With Mental Health Issues

05/19/2015 05:34 EDT | Updated 05/19/2016 05:59 EDT
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As a business owner, my employees' health and well-being is important to me. I know that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. We have health and safety policies to ensure that people have the proper training and equipment to do their jobs safely -- a standard in almost all good companies. Therefore, it's shocking to me is how many companies still do not address the issue of mental health in the workplace and the impact that has on the health and well-being of their workforce. This article makes a few suggestions on what we all can do to make our workplaces better for those who are living with mental health issues and in turn increase productivity.

Please note I'm not a doctor, just a business owner and lawyer who has seen many friends, family, and staff battle depression and mental illness. Here are my humble suggestions:

1. We Need To Create Empathetic Environments

Mental illness is a disease with a physiological component. It's not a choice, a single feeling, or a bad day. Much like a diabetic whose body does not produce enough insulin, the brain of someone battling depression is measurably different from someone who isn't. We wouldn't mock or trivialize diabetes, we shouldn't mock or trivialize a mental illness. As a young person, I was guilty of calling antidepressants "crazy pills" or "happy pills," insensitive words that, if heard by the wrong person, could invite a major setback or inflict pain. We must create workplaces where 'I've been diagnosed with depression' is treated with the respect, compassion, and severity of broken bones.

2. We Need To Understand That We Don't Understand

As with most mental illnesses, depression symptoms can vary in their presentation, severity, and timing. There is no cookie-cutter bout with this illness. Andrew Solomon may have said it best: "the opposite of depression is not happiness, but rather vitality." Many think that depression is simply unexplainable and prolonged sadness. But people battling depression may also/instead experience anger, apathy, frustration, anxiety, and more. Some will eat too little, some will eat too much. And if those that have experienced depression can only partially relate to another person's experience, it should go without saying that those unaffected have little right to position themselves as experts. We need to do away with the armchair diagnoses, and the broken culture that allows those attitudes to exist.

3. We Need To Encourage Treatment

A lot of mental illness is treatable or controllable through medication, in harmony with positive life choices. We should encourage those around us who may be suffering to seek the treatment they need to reclaim their vitality. Mentally and physically healthy workers are obviously more productive and beneficial for their organizations. I have always believed that human capital in any business is the most important resource, and we as a management or influencers can no longer turn a blind eye on a health problem that is challenging our workforce.

As a society we lose a lot of productivity to mental health issues and I wonder how much more productive we would be if we applied some of the same rigor we follow policies for physical safety and well-being to the mental health and well-being of our workforce. We owe it to all those around us to do what we can to make our workplaces better for all.

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