More than 300 million people all over the world live with depression, and the number of people seeking psychiatric help is increasing at an alarming rate. It's clear that we're having a global epidemic of mental health problems.
Even though the Philippines is supposed to be one of the happiest countries, it isn't any better here. 1 in 5 adult Filipinos are said to have mental disorders, and suicide rates have steadily hiked up, averaging 7 cases per day.
Only recently did we get our own Mental Health Act, which decrees that mental health services be made a part of our public health system.
Mental health at work
There's still a lot of stigma around the issue, and this is very much apparent in the workplace. Given that we spend one third of our day sleeping and another one third at work, we can't deny that our career affects our mental health. To point out the extremes, people have been driven to nervous breakdowns or even suicides because of overwork and workplace bullying.
Despite this, mental health is hardly discussed. Employees are scared that they'll be judged, or worse, get fired if they reveal that they're having problems. Taking a day off from work because you have a fever is normal, but very few people would attempt to file a leave and cite their mental health as the reason. Companies have a motive to care about mental health beyond mere humaneness: looking at the business side of things, happy employees get more done and make better decisions. So much of what we do also falls under a knowledge economy, which means that being mentally well is essential to our performance.
What we’ve done so far
To be fair, companies today are more concerned about their employees' wellbeing compared to before. Health insurance is mandatory, and corporate wellness programs are becoming a trend.However, most of them only take into account physical health, not mental health. The few that do include perks such as mindfulness training, counselling sessions, or meditation classes.
These are a step in the right direction, but they aren't enough: more fundamental changes are called for.
How to promote mental health at work
Does your work culture encourage wellbeing?
Clarify that your company has policies that protect against workplace bullying and harrassment. As important as it is to be productive, don't force employees to work beyond their hours, too--and watch out for understaffed projects where employees have no choice but to take on extra load.
Since we spend so much time at work, it's inevitable that it gets tied to our identity. Employees need to derive a sense of accomplishment from their work while feeling appreciated. Give positive feedback when someone's doing well, and acknowledge how they're contributing uniquely to the team.
Despite the statistics, not a lot of people are aware of mental health issues--especially in the Philippines, where we're still building up our resources.
What's important, then, is to establish openness about it in your company. Encourage leaders who've gone through their own problems to talk about it. When onboarding, express your company's commitment to the mental health of its employeesEven better, organize talks that explain the basics of mental health, and point out resources such as free screenings online. By keeping people informed, stigma is reduced, and misconceptions are eliminated--such as believing that depression is just a temporary mood rather than a chronic condition.
Team managers are crucial if you're seeking to promote mental health at work. For starters, hostile or overly demanding managers can have very negative effects on their employees' self-esteem. Check whether the management style across your organization is causing unnecessary stress--if so, tweaking it can be beneficial for both the managers and the employees.Beyond that, fill them in on mental health issues. They're not counselors, but they should know how to recognize warning signs in their employees, such as when an employee's eating habits suddenly change or if he keeps dropping his work. Mental health should also be discussed in one-on-one meetings and performance reviews. Ideally, managers wouldn't hesitate to reach out to team members who seem like they're struggling, then refer them to sources of support.
Mental health issues are a worldwide problem, but awareness is spreading, and the importance of mental health in the workplace is being recognized gradually. With the approval of the Mental Health Act of 2017, it's time to realize that, as Ben Congleton says, we ultimately bring our whole selves to work.
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