Flashback to my first “real” job: It is Friday at 3pm and I am overwhelmed with how to complete the week’s goals and deadlines. I am on the ground, nearing a panic attack, in child’s pose, glad I wore slacks today instead of a pencil skirt. Luckily, the hospital in which I work has a Meditation Room.
I sit here thinking: this is not how a professional should behave. This is not how a young woman advances her career. I sit and think of all the words and phrases women hear and feel as they move through their lives, built to subconsciously create subservience.
There are the words for the expressive woman: overly emotional, taking things too personally, crazy. Or there are the opposites: aggressive, over-ambitious, over-confident. Sometimes all at once. I try to control my emotions, my diagnosed mental illness, my imposter-syndrome, and my feelings of self-doubt.
And then I remember, this is a larger problem. How can we as a culture, a community, a business, support women’s growth not only within their field, but as mentally healthy individuals? How can we encourage a culture of authenticity and vulnerability allowing women and individuals with disabilities to utilize their unique strengths to create innovations that benefit all?
Today, ten years later, I see concrete steps for business communities to produce safe and empowering environments. Environments in which all employees can utilize the resilience from personal histories and struggles to drive motivation, productivity, and performance.
Three tips to increase workplace mental wellness:
Learn the facts and impact
According to the World Health Organisation an estimated 300 million people worldwide are affected by depression, with women holding the highest numbers. Anxiety is estimated to impact 275 million worldwide.
These are only two mental health conditions, and yet, mental health continues to carry stigma world-wide. Many people, communities, and even healthcare providers still see this as a personality flaw or weakness. For those living with mental health conditions this can intensify self-doubt and often exacerbate symptoms. In my personal experience, stigma within the workplace not only intensified my symptoms, but led to unhealthy levels of perfectionism, stress, and self-doubt. My attempts to prove I am not held back by my illness by over-working, less transparency, and an attempt to achieve higher goals have inevitably led to frequent medical leave and hospitalizations. Helping management and employees know basic facts regarding mental illness such as signs and symptoms, prevalence, and normalcy creates a culture of trust, authenticity, and empowerment. Visit the WHO’s mental health factsheets for a list of signs and symptoms to watch for, treatment suggestions, and key facts.
Create company policies that deem mental health REAL
Creating policies considering mental health as an equally important health concern allows individuals to be open in seeking help and accommodations. Examples of policies that show mental health struggles as “real” create a feeling of safety, allowing employees to focus on accomplishing work based on talent, pride, interest, and broader goals. Examples of policies in the US that have been helpful for me are the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and making sure that mental health services such as psychiatry, psychotherapy, and other treatments are part of health plans. Ensuring mental health is a valid use of sick time is also essential.
Learn ways to support co-workers in the workplace
While it is not helpful to spend the day discussing one’s depression with a coworker in your work setting, it is useful to create a culture of transparency and authenticity. As an employee, it helps my daily task prioritization knowing if my co-worker needs extra support. Without needing all the details, knowing that it is a day they may be unable to complete deadlines or tasks allows me to either assist, or work around that knowledge, ensuring we meet our goals as a team. Having brief check-ins with a supervisor is also effective, allowing them to know where one is at emotionally and physically, and whether it will impede goals and projects. If struggling, this allows leadership and employees to come up with plans together and ensure goal completion while minimizing shame. It is essential to ensure check-ins occur equally among men and women, utilizing the same tactics and language. Women already may feel a need to hide feelings due to societal expectations and standards. Creating supportive, professional, neutral language allows increased feelings of empowerment.
These represent only a few suggestions, of which there are many. The positive impact of prioritizing mental health in the workplace allowed me to increase resilience, think outside the box, and increase my emotional intelligence. Though living with mental illness is painful and constant work, knowing I consistently accomplish my goals and dreams empowers me to live my fullest life.
Linea Johnson is the bestselling author of Perfect Chaos: A Daughter’s Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother’s Struggle to Save Her, and an international activist, public speaker, and educator. Linea received her Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership from Brown University and currently works for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network. Linea is passionate about creating an empathetic and nuanced understanding of disability, specifically invisible disabilities. Her career has focused on mental health and wellness in the workplace and post-secondary institutions as a means to support young women and men to reach their full potentials.