Do you know five people? Do you have five people who work for you? Then you know someone who has mental health problems.
According to NAMI (NAMI.org), one in five adults faces mental health issues in any year in the United States. Of those, 60% did not receive any sort of treatment. These mental health issues can vary from depression to schizophrenia.
In 2001, a study published by the Harvard Health Publications found that 18% of individuals age 15-54 who were surveyed reported having a mental health issue in the last month (Mental health problems in the workplace).
What are our responsibilities, as employers, to these individuals? Do we just look past it unless it effects performance? Many managers and executives would say so. Let me tell you what is wrong with that: it is inhumane.
Did you know that people with long-term mental health issues die 25 years earlier than those without mental health issues (NAMI.org)? That alone should be impetus enough for employers to take notice. We could help our employees literally live longer.
I work in healthcare. My first job was in a psychiatric hospital. Working with children. Let me tell you, what some parents do to kids, it is no wonder that there are so many mental health issues. Those kids grow up eventually and enter the workforce.
Healthcare has its own share of issues. I think many people who are drawn to healthcare have mental health issues…or develop them while working in the field. Why? We see people die. We see people who need treatment, but can’t get it because of insurance. We see people diagnosed with incurable diseases. We see people become not themselves. People who are drawn to work in healthcare are “caring” people. The negative outcomes for our patients take a toll. Yes, babies are born and people are cured. But, they are eclipsed by that first patient who died in pain while you held her hand. Or the family that begged you to find a cure that wasn’t there. Or the insurance company that denied coverage of treatment that was working.
What are we, as employers, to do to help?
- Make sure your company has an Employee Assistance Program
- Educate everyone, from CEO to janitor, on h ow the EAP works, so that any employee can help another
- Ask questions when you see one of your employees struggling–or have their manager do it–just make someone does it
- You don’t have to listen to the whole story or lose your boundaries–just say, “Hey, it looks like you are having a hard time. Maybe the EAP could help you. They have all kinds of help available.” Then, give them a referral card
- Talk about mental health issues at staff meetings–you don’t have to go into the warning signs of schizophrenia, but touch on things like dealing with stress, even if it is just a handout
- Smile and make eye contact with people–haven’t you ever heard the story of the man whose suicide note said he was going to the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide, but he would not go through with it if someone smiled at him on the way (The New Yorker)?
It is everyone’s moral responsibility to help people who are struggling. If you are an employer, you see your employees every day and you know when something is “off.” Take time to ask. You don’t have to play therapist. But, you may be the only one who asks and the one who makes the difference between someone getting help and someone getting worse.