Sunday, 5 November 2017

"Talk About it Already"

Telling Someone with a mental illness to Snap Out of it, is like telling someone who is deaf to listen harder #mentalhealth via International Bipolar Foundation

Raise your hand if you have ever had to go to your job and work while you were sick. I am going to guess that is all of us, minus the millionaires among us. It's hard, isn't it? Trying to concentrate in an important meeting while your head is stuffed up with a winter cold isn't easy. We tend to understand and feel sympathy when a colleague has the common cold. Guess what else is common? Depression and anxiety.

The number one category of disability worldwide is mental illness. Yes, worldwide. Not just at my workplace or your workplace of even just in Canada. Worldwide. And yes, we still don't talk about mental illnesses nearly enough. We put up posters in workplaces encouraging employees to get flu shots, to stop smoking and to lift boxes safely. Mental health awareness? Not so much. Still.

I often speak at conferences and at organizations about the importance of being proactive about mental health awareness in the workplace. I share facts and figures, I tell parts of my own personal story and I even partner with the big guns at the Mental Health Commission of Canada sometimes. I know that I have helped people see the toll that untreated mental illness has on our society. And yet, there are still those people in the audience who are holding onto the old way of thinking. It goes something like this, "I can't afford to have an employee go on a disability leave or even take a few days off to look after their mental health. I have a business to run and I can't be short staffed. And I don't have time to talk about this stuff - I need to talk about our customers and sales targets and whatever else is urgent."

I get it. I really do. 

And here is what I want to say to those people: unless you take the time to begin this conversation in your workplace you are closing your eyes to an epidemic, and one that will negatively impact your organization's financial bottom line. If the human argument doesn't reach you then I am hoping that the financial imperative will.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), approximately $28.8B is spent annually in Canada in disability income support. Organizations are experiencing an increase in worker's compensation claims, high benefits utilization rates, an increase in grievances and workplace conflict. There is a financial price tag associated with each of these things.

And here are two of  the saddest statistics courtesy of the MHCC: up to 90% of Canadians living with severe mental illness are unemployed; unemployment is associated with a two to three times increased relative risk of suicide as compared to those who are employed.

And here is what this all comes down to: the belief that mental illnesses are not real illnesses. I have said it many times before and I will continue to say it; stigma kills. 

Depression is very real. So are anxiety, addiction and OCD. People who have these illnesses ARE able to work and contribute to society but they sometimes need a little help. They need to know that their employer will support them just as their colleagues with the flu or a broken leg or cancer are supported. Mental illnesses are just as real - you just can't always see them.

To the managers, leaders and executives out there I ask you this: is your workplace psychologically safe and healthy? Are you not just ignoring your employees' mental health but also, perhaps, negatively impacting it? And the most important question of all is can you afford NOT to start a conversation about mental health?

KB

P.S. Want to learn more about the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety? Visit the Mental Health Commission of Canada's website.



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