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Mental Health in the Workplace: Psychological Effects and Support!

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Mental health issues are a global epidemic. Nobody in the world is alone in this struggle. As per the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from one mental health issue or another each year. That’s 47.6 million people. The numbers representing the global rates are naturally higher.

As per WHO, a sobering and concerning number of 450 million represents the global population of people who live with mental health issues. These rates are prevalent across age lines, genders, education levels, social desirability indexes, and other indicators of economic or social development.

With these numbers in mind, how likely do you think it is that people that we see every day, people that we work with, are part of these numbers? In fact, statistically speaking, if it’s not your colleagues battling a mental illness, it’s you.

This post is dedicated to discussing mental health issues in the workplace and how work-related stressors further aggravate those issues. These work-related stressors coupled with existing mental health issues result in high absenteeism, low productivity, low morale, and high staff turnover. And it is not only the older people in the workface facing these issues.

As per a report by Harvard Medical School, 18% of the employees they surveyed, ranging from ages 15 to 45 years, said they experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder last month.

Since mental health issues are still misunderstood, even with the growing awareness, employees are less likely to seek help or share their concerns with their manager, most notably because of the fear of losing their job. As per the Harvard Medical School study, symptoms of mental health issues at workplace tend to change their shape and form.

Psychological effects that emerge as most prominent manifestations of people experiencing work-related stressors are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of Concentration
  • Changes in Behavior (Irritability, restlessness, nervousness)
  • Physical Symptoms (shoulder, back, and neck)

In this post, we are going to discuss these 5 major psychological effects mental health issues have in a work setting, and try to look for resources and support options you can reach out for to improve your work life.

1. Depression

Depression is the most common health-related issue in the American workforce. In the United States, an estimated 200 million days are lost from work each year due to depression alone. As per the Harvard Medical School study, for individual cases this number is 27 work days per employee in a year.

In addition to high absenteeism and resultant loss of productivity, employees battling depression usually report feeling aimless, fatigued, restless, and experiencing low morale – symptoms consistent with APA’s DSM’s (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – IV) diagnostic standards.

When it comes to treating depression in the workplace, the numbers aren’t encouraging. First, employees tend to hide their symptoms due to fear of losing their job. Second, not all workplaces offer adequate mental health treatment support options. In fact, Harvard Medical School study finds that only about 1 in 4 employees living with major depressive disorder receive adequate treatment.

2. Anxiety

Symptoms, treatment options, and study findings for anxiety and depression tend to overlap. The reason: both anxiety and depressive disorders share a lot of common symptoms. Low morale, irritability, nervousness, and lack of concentration that are so prevalent in depressive patients also appear in those dealing with anxiety.

Similarly, work related stressors affect people with anxiety in almost the same way as those with depression. Absenteeism increases and productivity drops. However, there are distinct ways in which anxiety disorders differ from depression.

Employees living with anxiety disorders tend to require a lot of reassurances. They are also liable to stop projects in the middle if they are anxious about how it’s progressing, something very common with creative professionals from graphic designers with ADHD to depressed ad execs. Excessive worry is also a distinctive symptom of anxiety.

Unlike patients suffering from major depression, those dealing with anxiety disorders are more likely to seek treatment. Perhaps because anxiety can cause serious impairment in daily functioning and it can spiral out of control quite easily, and partly because it also manifests in physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, neck and shoulder pains, and such.

3. Loss of Concentration

Loss of concentration is a symptom that is present in almost all major mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD all result in a poor level of concentration, and mind losing its focus without warning.

Loss of concentration is almost a staple of a few of these mental health issues, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. These mental health disorders are characterized by poor concentration, flights of imagination, inability to focus, and restlessness. It’s this loss of concentration that results in human errors, poor decision making, low productivity, and low morale for employees who experience any of these mental health issues.

4. Changes in Behavior

Changes in a person’s behavior are possibly the earliest psychological indicators of a mental health concern. Someone going through a tough time and battling depression may become slowly or suddenly withdrawn. Pressures of the job may cause people to develop nervous attitudes or decreased patience levels. Patients also report feeling irritable, snappy, and may pick fights with colleagues.

Changes in behavior will often be most prominent in employees with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is the shifting of moods between manic and depressive states. In the manic states, the employee may seem extraordinarily productive, highly creative, too energetic, and with grand ideas. In the depressive state, productivity may plummet, energy levels are depleted, and creative ideas lose their appeal.

5. Physical Symptoms

For people battling mental health issues, physical symptoms sometimes can be indicative of deeper psychological problems.

Muscular pains, especially, are manifestations of psychological health concerns such as anxiety and depression. These physical symptoms can also be due to poor working conditions and may be aggravating existing mental health problems.

Neck and shoulder pains are common physical symptom of mood and anxiety disorders. Back pain, too. Stomach aches and other gastrointestinal sometimes turn out to be physical manifestations of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Since it is far easier to tell your superior of a stomach ache or a headache than say you’re having a bad anxiety day, employees also tend to deliberately mask their psychological concerns in physical ailments. Needless to say, all this results in negatively impacted productivity levels, higher employee medical costs, and increased absenteeism.

Psychological Support and Treatment Options

WHO reports, one in every eight people in the world suffer from a mental health disorder. But nearly two-thirds of affected people never seek treatment and help. The stigma attached to mental health issues, discrimination, and neglect are the leading causes of why people never try to reach out to get help for their mental health concerns, WHO reports.

If you are also experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder or if the work-related stress is negatively affecting your wellbeing, seek treatment now. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees who may be suffering from anxiety disorders and depression. According to this act, it is illegal to fire employees with a disability, and mental health disorders are included in its definition of disability.

Governments world over, and organizations too, are being encouraged to change their approach towards mental health issues. There is increased recognition that treating these concerns not only helps the employee but solves a lot of enterprise related issues as well, such as productivity, high medical costs, high turnover, and employee burnout.

Armed with the knowledge of how common mental health issues are, and how treating them not only helps the individual but the business too, we suggest opening dialogues and initiating conversations about mental health in workplaces. Whether you are an employer, an employee, or a policy maker, treating mental health issues helps everyone. Please click here for a list of resources laid out by the Department of Labor to ensure best mental health practices in the workplace.

This last note especially to the employee fighting a mental health battle: We see you, and you are doing great. If for any reason you haven’t reached out for help yet, remember what Dumbledore said to Harry Potter about help being given to people who need it. Help is available, please just ask for it.



About the Author: Jennifer Stone is a devoted writer, an advocate of mental health, and blogger who has dedicated her time and experience to writing and graphic designing. Her hobbies are intertwined with her profession; i.e. blogging, which allows her to explore her love and passion for writing about topics she feels close too such as mental health, creative pursuits, and design.

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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