One of the lions of American history was our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. He was a man of sorrows suffering from frequent bouts of depression since he was a young man in rural Illinois. In 1862, Lincoln wrote in a condolence letter to a friend whose Father had died:

“In this sad world of ours sorrow comes to all, and to the young it comes with bittered agony because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to expect it.”

“Not only did Abraham Lincoln suffer from serious episodes of depression, but he also tried to give advice to others he knew were suffering. Lincoln's depressions, whether they lasted for hours, days, weeks, or months always came to an end. Knowing this, he could encourage others. It would seem his own experience led him to believe that depression was not a permanent condition,” according to Joshua Wolf Shenk author of Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.

Lincoln, like many of the Millennial generation in today’s workforce, suffered from great insecurity as young man. Some believe it was because he was a homely man from a poor family while others think his strained relationship with a cold and distant father fueled the insecurity and depressions.

New research by British psychologists has labeled it the “Quarter-life Crisis”.  It is a time when educated 20- and 30- somethings are most likely hit by pre-midlife blues.

If you are a company owner or manager, these are many of your new-hires. They are the Millennials –a person reaching adulthood around 2000.

When I was their ages, I carried my Draft Card in my back pocket and lived through my undergraduate years in fear of having to go to fight in the Vietnam War if I failed my college courses.  It was also a time of the onset of my mental illness with major depressions initially that repeatedly paralyzed me and filled my head with thoughts of suicide. It was 23 years later that I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

I didn’t get professional help because of the stigma attached to mental illness.

I’m a Baby Boomer and the Millennials and I share a common history.  Instead of fearing the Draft and being sent to an unpopular and losing war, the Millennials have feared the uncertainty of whether there will be a job when they graduate and how they are going to pay off their mounting student loans.

You know by now that one in four of us will suffer from a mental health issue at some time in our lives. You may not know that seven out of 10 managers has managed someone with a diagnosed or suspected mental illness, according to a study by the Mental Health Foundation in Great Britain.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, most workers hide their mental illness finding it safer to observe the unspoken don’t ask don’t tell rule.

How do you help a colleague who you know is suffering from a mental illness such as clinical depression? Unless you have personal experience with depression, it is very hard to know what to say.

Unless you have a lot of patience, you may give up trying to help, which can lead to termination of your employee.One manager shared her experience:

"My team member suffered from stress over a period of approximately six months. …able to be in work, with occasional time off, the stress affected their performance and eventually they decided to leave the business. When I asked them if they felt we could have done anything differently, the only suggestion was the option of counselling. I fed this back to the management team to look at what we can do in the future."

It all begins with reducing stress in the high-pressure competitive world of business. Companies should be educating managers and all employees on how to reduce stress such as the program offered by Kelly Wellness Consulting I cited in an earlier blog post.

Reducing stress or educating our teams on how to manage stress is a worthwhile investment for all businesses. 50% of long term absences are due to mental ill health - this is more common than back pain, and there are simple ways for a business, no matter how small to get the basics right.

One easy step is to publish links to support and guidance and having a mental health policy.

“Stress can be defined as the way you feel when you’re worried about being able to cope. A moderate level of stress can better your performance by enabling you to respond to challenging situations, such as presentations or interviews. However, excessive or prolonged stress can lead to mental or physical health problems, which is why symptoms of stress must be tackled early,” explained  Dr. Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation.

Over 80% of the lost productive time costs are explained by reduced performance while at work, not work absence. Annual cost to American businesses reduced productivity is $35.7 billion, according to a study by the American Psychiatric Foundation. (See my post Mental Health and Productivity Are Your Employees Present and Accounted For? )

There’s a progressive effort in Scotland called See Me Scotland. According to a survey by the organization of 1,165 workers found 55 per cent thought that people would be unlikely to disclose a mental illness because it could result in being passed over for promotion or moved to another post.

Additionally, only 22 per cent thought that their co-workers had a good understanding of the importance of employee mental health. However, 83 per cent said they would want a better understanding if their colleague was experiencing mental health problems.

Stigma and discrimination in the workplace is a major issue and these figures show there is a significant problem with people being able to speak openly about mental health.

The cost to Scottish employers by not properly supporting employees with mental health conditions is considerable, approximately 1.5 Billion (U.S.) a year.

See Me says employers have a legal and moral responsibility to look after the health and wellbeing of everyone who works for them and it is important they know how staff are being treated.

“At See Me we want to change the cultures of workplaces in Scotland, so people can feel safe in speaking openly about their mental health.”

To do this the organization launched the See Me in Work program. Through it See Me is engaging with employers and supporting them in making changes to their work practices, to improve the working lives of employees with mental health problems.

It encourages an equal and fair recruitment process and ensures those returning to work following ill-health are fully supported.

“It's very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.”

--Thich Nhat Hanh