Changing Attitudes about Mental Health in the Workplace
One of the ongoing challenges with which social workers deal is that of mental health issues. For individuals and families to thrive, they must be able to address mental health problems, preventing worse issues when they can and remediating those issues that cannot be prevented. But because mental health is very often something that must be self-reported, and because those suffering from mental health issues must seek out help, the stigma associated with mental health problems often prevents those affected from getting the assistance they need.
Antonio Horta-Osorio in The Guardian, acknowledges that we as a society have made great strides in acknowledging and dealing with mental health problems in recent years. But the workplace, she says, is still a problem, and an environment in which we still struggle to deal with the stigma attached to mental health issues. Perhaps almost as bad is the fact that untreated mental illness and other emotional and psychological problems end up costing employers money in the long run. It is in the interests of both employers and employed to deal with mental health problems as early and as effectively as possible… and to do so requires dealing with the stigma so often experienced by sufferers.
“Despite the fundamental changes to our working lives during the past decade – flexible working, the end of the nine-to-five working day, an ‘always on’ culture and the rapid evolution of technology – there is one troubling constant,” Horta-Osorio writes. That problem, she says, is declining productivity in the last decade. “While there are several economic factors that have caused this decline, it is time to acknowledge a less visible yet more pervasive factor: mental health and attitudes to it in the workplace.,” she concludes. Mental health issues result in staff turnover, absence, lower productivity, and costs associated with health and welfare benefits. Rooting out and dealing with mental health issues can thus reduce these costs and boost productivity.
When employees feel they can seek treatment without suffering reduced respect, reduced prestige, or even experiencing ridicule at work, they are more likely to get the help they need. Everyone benefits, and so does the workplace as a whole. But what is the best way to reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues… and how can social workers facilitate this when their tasks intersect with the workplace? If you had the opportunity to address this problem on the job, how would you approach it? And how can your fellow social workers help you do so effectively? Please let us know where you stand.