Featured on Forbes. Author: Kelly Greenwood
Workplace culture around mental health has started to change over the last couple of years, and while the pace of change has been slower than any of us would like, it is happening. I’ve seen no greater evidence of this than what I experienced this May during Mental Health Awareness Month.
We’re Breaking The Ice
During an icebreaker activity at my nonprofit organization’s annual conference on mental health at work, audience members were asked to stand if their response to any given question was “yes.” We started with some soft balls, like where people were from or what industry they worked in. Then the questions got more personal: “Do you have a close family member or friend with a mental health condition?” The entire room stood up. “Do you know someone at work with a mental health condition?” Most people remained standing.
The final question was the hardest in that professional setting: “Have you struggled with your own mental health?” Almost everyone stood up. I was blown away. I thought that people might get comfortable sharing by the end of the day, but definitely not before the coffee had even kicked in.
It’s Far More Than One In Five
Beyond the anecdotal evidence that I’ve shared, there is hard data to support the pervasiveness of mental health challenges—both in and out of the workplace. When I was struggling with my own mental health, simply knowing the often cited stat that one in five people have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year would have done wonders to diminish my own self-stigma. I wish it were common practice for therapists to set the stage for their clients so they didn’t feel so alone.
To get a better sense of U.S. workplace mental health and stigma, my organization surveyed 1,500 individuals online from March to April 2019 for our mental health at work report. All respondents were at least 16 years of age, employed in a full-time position at a company with at least 11 employees, and resided in the U.S. All findings were statistically significant at a 95% confidence level.
We found that experiencing symptoms of negative mental health at work is the norm, not the exception, regardless of seniority. Nearly 60% of respondents experienced symptoms of a mental health condition in the past year. Half of those experiences lasted from a month to the entire year. The most common symptoms were related to anxiety (37%), depression (32%), and eating disorders (26%). The one in five statistic underestimates the prevalence of mental health challenges within companies by only counting conditions, not symptoms. Perhaps even more surprising is that mental health symptoms were equally prevalent across all levels of seniority within companies, from individual contributors to the C-suite.
Mental health conditions affect almost everyone over the course of a lifetime—we’re just still afraid to discuss it at work. That prevents people from getting support and seeking treatment. In fact, our survey showed that almost 60% of people never talked to anyone at work about their mental health in the last year.
Let’s keep changing that so that next May, we’ll have a different story to tell.