Open your minds and remove stigma from mental illness in the workplace!
I would like to tell you a short story about “Bob,” a hard working and smart attorney working for a large corporation, who was a high performing employee nobody could surpass, however, Bob missed a lot of work, 48 days within six months to be exact, due to illness. Bob had many mystery diagnosis ranging from “flue like symptoms” to severe headaches and gastro intestinal issues. Finally, when he was faced with potentially getting fired, he sought help from a psychologist. Bob quickly learned that he was clinically depressed and needed psychological treatment. Once Bob accepted his diagnosis, he was motivated to get well and very insightful toward his treatment. Within eight weeks Bob learned how to manage his depression and never missed work again.
However, stigma regarding mental health is alive and well: Mark Twain once stated: “When we remember we are ALL mad, the mysteries disappear…” It’s time we face the facts; whether we call it madness, mental illness or plain crazy: stigma about mental health remains, affecting not only human interaction but also accepting it as a real and painful phenomena many individuals struggle with.
One in four American Adults are affected by mental health issues (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2013), half of those seek help via their primary care doctor, receiving a variety of psychotropic medication; the other half is not seeking mental health services at all, due to fear of being judged and labeled and often self-medicate with alcohol, pain killers or what ever is available. This group now has a bigger problem at their hands and many will turn into “Bobs” unable to manage work and home ... missing work, creating billions of dollars in lost productivity .
Just think about it: someone with a broken leg will not only elicit sympathy but also credibility for being in pain, however, an individual hurting emotionally may face isolation and stigma (just the word itself sounds like a horrible disease) it means shame, disgrace and humiliation. Isn’t it time we take stigma out of mental health? After all we seek help when we break a leg, why not normalize the experience for all types of pain.?
We must address current changes in our world, which is moving so rapidly we can hardly catch our breath; as technology is progressing, humanity is regressing and hardly prepared for the stressors of daily life. The future is not looking pretty as we are facing an exponential increase in mental health concerns: this is a train wreck coming and we must be prepared.
Mental health discussions and advocacy should be as American as apple pie.
Know your rights if you have a mental health diagnosis, according to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals are entitled of accommodations at their place of employment!
• Dr. Astrid Heathcote is a longtime resident and mother of three and also a psychologist in private practice in Ahwatukee. Reach her at drastrid.org.