Wendy Hawkins, LCSW

Empower! Educate! Evolve!

Mentally healthy in the Workplace

Mentally healthy in the Workplace

mentally healthy in the workplace

Are you mentally healthy in the workplace?

It’s 7:56am, and a silver mini-van smashes into the rear-end of your car, sending you off the lane and into the highway shoulder. Within 5 loud seconds, you open your eyes to the dusty remnants of deployed airbags and honking horns surrounding you. You’re okay, but your car isn’t, and the Monday morning traffic has manifested into an impending time-consuming insurance mess, some trips to the chiropractor for whiplash, and a week-long rental car commitment. Not to mention, your boss and co-workers are awaiting your arrival to present your quarterly report. This is a very valid reason to be late. This is even a valid reason to miss work entirely that day, and perhaps the next few. Emergencies happen, and there’s an acceptance for sudden circumstances (medical or family related mostly) that are allowed to stand in the way of promptness and attendance in the 9 to 5 routine.

Now, let’s change the scenario a bit.

It’s 7:56am, and your heart begins to palpitate. Your chest heaves in and out heavily as you begin to hyperventilate, and the room feels like it’s spinning.That morning’s anxiety has built up from the fear of your upcoming office presentation manifested into panic, sending your body into complete fight-or-flight mode. The attack consumes your whole body. You open your eyes to find yourself curled up in bed after a brief blackout. You begin sobbing uncontrollably. Your neck is tense–in fact, your entire body is tense, your mascara is smeared across your face and your shirt is stained from the coffee spilling as you frantically searched to hold on to something for balance as the panic attack hit you. Your boss and co-workers are sitting in the conference room awaiting your arrival, wondering why you haven’t arrived to complete your presentation. Eyes frequently darting at the clock.  Why does it feel like you need to make up a lie about the reason for your lateness or even possibly your absence for the day? 

Mental Health and Stigma

One in five Americans suffers from some type of mental health disorder, so the likelihood of a co-worker experiencing rough times due to mental illness is not far-fetched. In fact, two out of five employees have been bullied at work. So now the odds are even greater that you will directly experience a mental health episode at work or see one of your coworkers struggling. Are you mentally healthy in the workplace? Why is there more acceptance and “forgiveness” for a car accident than for chronic mental illness? We all have to work towards eliminating the stigma!

Although the stigma surrounding mental health illness has begun to slowly melt away in the workplace with insurance programs offering services through EAP (employee assistance programs) as well as new hire orientation programs educating on the subject, there is still a lot of work to do!! Reporting a panic attack to the boss creates much more anxiety than one related to a highway car accident or the baby being sick. Admitting mental health issues runs the risk of being cast in a “crazy” light leaving oneself open for judgement despite the irrelevance to job performance in most cases. Acknowledging such a taboo provides an opportunity to be treated differently (in a negative, outcast type of way) after coming out about an issue, which in itself be the domino that impacts how they feel in an office environment. This negative treatment eventually affecting work performance as well as adding to the mental health issue. It could make for a very unhealthy and unproductive cycle for all involved!

There is hope!

Thankfully, as science and education expand, acceptance follows, and mental health awareness throughout offices in America do show signs of progress. Recently, an employee openly expressed in her automatic email response that she would be taking time off to focus on her mental health. Her boss responded with gratitude, commending her for her confidence and openness on the subject that he felt reminded the rest of the employees to practice the same type of self-care. These types of reactions and support systems are extremely helpful in normalizing mental health in the workplace because for those of us who suffer, we know full well that issues stemming from mental health illness can be as debilitating is the worst case of the flu, traffic accident or any other family emergency deemed acceptable.

Life is hard. Even for those who do not have the obstacle of chronic mental health issues, juggling everyday tasks, routines, demands surrounding the mind, body and health is a constant struggle. Throw in the added weight of mental instability and life does not get any easier. Work-life balance, specifically an emphasis on self-care, is imperative to maintaining a stable track mentally, physically and spiritually. Committing to daily practices like those found in your Mental Health Toolbox are just as important as setting your alarm clock or brushing your teeth. It is so necessary to stay in charge of your mental health journey and continue empowering yourself to be the best version of you that is possible. Reach your highest potential without allowing a diagnosis prevent you from anything less. Invest in yourself, empower yourself and education and you WILL evolve to greatness.  You can be mentally healthy in the workplace!

I’m always available to chat. I believe in you!

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