There is a thin line between the impossible and the possible - that is determination,” Nigerian writer Ogwo David Emenike wrote.

If you have read my blog posts over the past couple of years, there should be no doubt that my mission in life is to end mental illness stigma. It can be a real killer of humans and a disaster for business.

We are in another Presidential election season. One of the issues is the economy, as usual. Instead of thinking about losing businesses to other countries, lets focus for a moment on the businsses that chose to remain in the U.S. What is the work environment? Is it safe? Are employees given equal opportunity to excel in positions of responsibility? Are the health benefits adequate? One characteristic, however, is often left out of the mix of what makes a good work environment. It is mental health.

Someone once said “Success isn't just about what you accomplish in your life; it's about what you inspire others to do." Can employers inspire their employees to do their best by feeling their best? Physical health is good, but what about psychological well-being? Is safe to be mentally ill in your work environment? After all, one out of every five Americans will be mentally ill at some time in their life.

Your company’s success can be crippled by one word that carries with it more harm than a computer virus: stigma.

Mental illness was not an ailment that drew much sympathy from the public 200 years ago instead, those who were mentally ill in the Western world, specifically Britain, France, and their colonies, were detested and often isolated.

The best tool we have today is education, yet many companies do not include it in employee orientation or training of supervisors. The result is presenteeism (working while ill), absenteeism due to depression, and employee turnover, which adds thousands of lost dollars to the bottom line because Depression lowers productivity.

Self-stigma complicates lower productivity among workers with a mental illness. These workers may begin to believe the negative thoughts expressed by others and, in turn, think of themselves as unable to recover, undeserving of care, dangerous, or responsible for their illnesses. This can lead them to feel shame, low self-esteem, and inability to accomplish their goals. To avoid being discriminated against, some people may also try to avoid being labeled as “mentally ill” by denying or hiding their problems and refusing to seek out care. The spiral leads to disaster in many cases: chronic unemployment, divorce, and suicide.

Adequate treatment, on the other hand, can alleviate symptoms for the employee and improve job performance. But accomplishing these aims requires a shift in attitudes about the nature of mental disorders and the recognition that such a worthwhile achievement takes effort and time.

In one study examining the financial impact of 25 chronic physical and mental health problems, researchers polled 34,622 employees at 10 companies. The researchers tabulated the amount of money the companies spent on medical and pharmacy costs for employees, as well as employees' self-reported absenteeism and lost productivity, using the World Health Organization (WHO) questionnaire.

When researchers ranked the costliest health conditions (including direct and indirect costs), depression ranked first, and anxiety ranked fifth — with obesity, arthritis, and back and neck pain in between.

The imbalance between a company’s spending on directs costs, such as health insurance and lost productivity to mental health issues is astonishing. The indirect costs exceed the direct costs.  Researchers suggest that companies should invest in the mental health of workers — not only for the sake of the employees but to improve their own profits.

The literature on mental health problems in the workplace suggests that the personal toll on employees — and the financial cost to companies — could be eased if a greater proportion of workers who need treatment were able to receive it. The authors of such studies advise employees and employers to think of mental health care as an investment — one that's worth the up-front time and cost.

In addition to writing about the impact of mental illness stigma on business, I’ve started a campaign to deter our youth from suicide. It is the second leading cause of death among the 15-24-year-old age group. Impossible? You decide: Teen Suicide: An Unspoken Crisis.

Is ending mental illness stigma possible. Well, as John Lennon wrote:

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will live as one.”

 


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