Mental Health Considerations in the Workplace

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Employees with mental illness face many barriers in the workplace. Fortunately, there are ways employers and colleagues can be supportive and inclusive. In this lesson, you'll learn more about both sides.

Mental Health At Work

Davey was diagnosed with bipolar disorder three months ago. Despite missing a few days of work at the time of his diagnosis, Davey has been mostly able to keep his schedule consistent over the past few weeks. He's been reluctant to talk to anyone at his office about his diagnosis because of the stigma attached to mental illness, but with his medication currently being adjusted, he feels like he might need some workplace support. Fortunately, Davey has a boss that is incredibly open and supportive.

The prevalence of mental illness in the U.S. alone (around 44 million adults admitted to having some type of mental health condition in a given calendar year) means that many dealing with these types of diagnoses are taking their mental illness to work with them. This can present barriers that workers must navigate, but also provides opportunities for employers and colleagues to show their support.

Let's start this lesson by taking a look at some of the barriers employees with mental illnesses could encounter, and then conclude by looking at ways that both employers and colleagues can advocate for, and support, these workers.

Barriers For Employees With Mental Illness

In Davey's case, from our lesson's opening, we've already been introduced to one barrier: the stigma of mental illness. A stigma is a negative connotation associated with something. For example, a worker may feel like he can't be himself or share details about his mental illness for fear of being viewed as incompetent, dangerous or hard to talk to. But, that's not the only barrier. Here are some others:

  • Prejudice: Prejudice and stigma relate closely. Prejudices may reveal themselves in co-workers' attitudes, excluding those with mental illnesses from projects or conversations or treating them like children or with sympathy or pity.
  • Poor expectations: Employees with mental illness may be viewed as unable to perform the tasks of a job and may be subsequently stripped of responsibilities or relegated to more menial roles.
  • Lack of communication: Some managers and colleagues of workers with mental illness may be reluctant to have open dialogue with them for fear of not knowing what to say. This can make it difficult for workers to perform their responsibilities.
  • No resources: Employees with mental illnesses can benefit from company resources such as occupational health support or flexible work schedules. Lack of resources can make it harder for these employees to work successfully.
  • Unsupportive colleagues: From management to the person sitting in the next cubicle, unsupportive co-workers can cause issues from strained relationships to the inability to work efficiently.

How Employers Can Help

Employers, managers, co-workers and even the organizational structure itself can play a large role in reducing or eliminating these barriers completely. Here are some strategies to consider:

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