We Shall Overcome: Civil Rights for ALL Disabled Workers

Rob Lachenauer, the CEO and a co-founder of Banyan Family Business Advisors, wrote in the Harvard Business Review:  “The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prevents employers from discriminating against people who have a mental illness, but my experience as a consultant at a very large strategy firm whose clients are giant corporations had been that if someone admitted that he or she struggled with depression or mental illness, that would often be career suicide. Indeed, a former vice president of a major investment banking firm, when told about this blog, warned me against publishing it: ‘Clients are afraid to work with firms that have mentally ill people on the professional staff.’ “ 

Is non-discrimination toward anyone with a mental illness the last great struggle for equality? I have two neurological disorders, for example, that affect my work-related skills. One is a physical disability caused by multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system. It left me vision-impaired and with cognitive limitations that that left me with an inability to learn new skills and bipolar disorder, which is a genetic mental illness and affects mood, concentration and interpersonal relationships. People with MS do not face the same discrimination as one with a mental illness. They are afforded reasonable accommodations to help them succeed in their job assignment. People with MS are not victimized by stigma; mental illness victims face stigma in all areas of their lives and when it affects their livelihood it is understandable why they are reticent about letting employers know they need specific accommodations to succeed.  

“Today, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some 60% to 80% of people with mental illness are unemployed. In part, this is the crippling nature of the disease. But a large part of the problem that we have in hiring people who have some mental disorder is that we lack the sophisticated vocabulary to talk and act regarding these illnesses” Rob Lachenauer wrote.   The definition of disability under the ADA was expanded by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 to: (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. Major life activities also include major bodily functions, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.   Over the past decade, we have all noticed the increasing impact of mental ill health in the workplace. Stress, anxiety and depression, albeit not all work-related, have led to higher rates of absenteeism and lost productivity due to presenteeism (working while sick).   Managing mental health should hold no fear for managers – whether they realize it or not, they already have many of the skills needed to look after their employees’ wellbeing. Sometimes all it takes is an open mind. Mental health is the mental and emotional state in which we feel able to cope with the normal stresses of everyday life. If we are feeling good about ourselves we often work productively, interact well with colleagues and make a valuable contribution to our team or workplace. The good news is that line managers already have many of the skills needed to promote positive mental health at work. They are usually well-versed in the importance of effective communication and consultation, and the need to draw up practical workplace policies and procedures. Add to these skills an open mind and a willingness to try and understanding mental health problems, and organizations can make real progress in tackling the stigma often associated with mental health. Here is the dilemma faced by all of us with a mental illness trying to get and keep a job: "From the outside looking in, it's hard to understand. From the inside looking out, it's hard to explain."   Until the perception of mental illness changes, nothing changes. 
Remember when the rule in the military about gays serving was “don’t ask, don’t tell”?  Now that gay men and women serve openly in the armed services, the rule seems to apply to workers who have major depression or another mood disorder.

 “Jim” (not his real name) called me recently about his struggle with major depression and how his employer treated him after he disclosed it to his supervisor.

“Jim” is retired military and currently works as a civilian contractor for one of the service branches.

“I can’t concentrate,” he told me, “and I have to miss a lot of work.” 

“Jim” said in order to keep his job he decided to tell his supervisor that his frequent absences were due to depression and he was going to get help. 

“I didn’t get much sympathy,” he said, “in fact my flight authorizations were stopped, which had an impact on my job because it requires a lot of traveling.” 

Why were his flight authorizations cancelled? Maybe the boss thought “Jim” would hijack the plane or bomb it to commit suicide and still get life insurance for his family. 

Instead of helping a hard-working, experienced employee, the supervisor hurt not only theemployee but also the company they both serve.

There are two lessons to learn from this story:

1. Negative disclosure consequences could have been avoided had the employer implemented a mental health friendly workplace beginning with educating all supervisors about mental illness;

2. “Jim” needed his own education about depression, too. He had avoided seeing a psychiatrist his primary care doctor recommended perhaps out of fear of more stigma. He didn’t say.

“Jim” chose to disclose and get help to restore his productivity, but the supervisor did what far too many supervisors do by stigmatizing him.

According to one study conducted by Dr. Carolyn Dewa, Psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto, one-third of workers would hide mental health problems from their manager, with many worried about how it would affect their careers. The survey also found that 64% of people said they would be ‘concerned’ about the performance of a co-worker with mental health problems. Nevertheless, research suggests that workers with a mental health issue perform better if they disclose the issue than if they hide it.  Being honest with managers, for instance, will help to explain absences for treatment, which may be difficult to account for otherwise.

Should you disclose your depression? First, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish by telling your boss, advises Clare Miller, the director of the American Psychiatric Foundation’s Partnership for Workplace Mental Health. The program helps employers develop effective approaches to mental health.

For instance, disclosure may be in your best interest if you need special accommodations to do your job, such as the option of starting later in the day because you're on a new medication that makes you sleepy in the morning or taking sick leave if you are having a particularly tough time emotionally.

“Disclosure is probably also a good idea if depression if causing your job performance to suffer noticeably”, said Miller. "But try to do it early in the game as opposed to waiting until you get a bad performance review," she added. 

Another important consideration for self-disclosure is the atmosphere of your workplace.  Stigma isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it still exists.

Former Chairman and President of Highsmith Inc, now part of Demco), employed only 1,000 people, but he implemented a plan to address the mental health of his employees to retain them and keep them productive. The company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP)  provides tools to balance an employee’s work and life. The EAP provides an orientation session for new employees that includes a class called “First Aid Kit for the Mind,” which describes signs of mental illnesses, stress, and substance use disorders and how to maintain mental fitness. An Intranet section that links employees to information on depression and anxiety, relationships, and domestic abuse. Another section, “Leader’s Edge,” features resources for line managers, including “Your Role and the EAP.”  Highsmith strived to make mental health on a par with physical health.

 Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability among adults 15 to 44 years old, affecting nearly 7 percent of adults in the U.S. each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Depression causes an estimated $23 billion in lost productivity in the U.S. each year.

" Thirty-four percent of lost productivity is caused by depression and stress disorders, yet 86% of employees with stress or depression prefer to suffer in silence and businesses pay the price,” according to Graeme Cowan, author of  Back from the Brink: True Stories and Practical Help for Overcoming Depression and Bipolar Disorder (New Harbinger Publications 2013). 

Depression disclosure in the workplace is a matter of dollars and cents. It makes good sense, too, but it is a two-way street between employee and employer.

What is the secret? It is mental illness. One in four Americans will be mentally ill at some point in their lifetime. It is a neurobiological disease that affects the way people think and behave. The good news is that it is treatable. Left untreated, however, they are among the most disabling and destructive illnesses known to humankind.

More than 60 percent of employers surveyed say the stigma surrounding mental-health issues in the workplace has either stayed the same or increased. What can HR do to help reverse this troubling trend?

The costs of mental ill-health for individuals, employers and society at large are enormous. Mental illness is responsible for a very significant loss of potential labor supply, high rates of unemployment, and a high incidence of sickness absence and reduced productivity at work.

“In the beginning was the Word,” according to a verse in the Bible. It is not a religious approach to mental illness in the workplace I suggest, but rather an educational approach. Written materials in the hands of each employee, posted on bulletin boards, company email, blogs, web sites and workshops for supervisors are small investments to make in avoiding very expensive problems.

Most employers offer an “orientation” for their new employees. The information presented includes details about health insurance plans, breaks, vacations, chain of command, etc. Why not include a section about mental health? Present a plan that demonstrates to every new employee that the company is mentally-heath safe with supervisors who have received specific training on how to help an employee struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety or other conditions. The supervisors are not trained to be therapists, but rather make sure the employee knows what resources are available such as Employee Assistance Programs and can encourage the employee to get help. The supervisor monitors any sign of stigma such as jokes, isolating anyone known as one with a mental illness. Such reactions are common when people are brave enough to admit they have a mental health problem, and they can often lead on to various forms of exclusion or discrimination – either within social circles or within the workplace. The fear of stigma keeps many people from getting treatment. It is the dirty little secret that is never brought out into the light. It can affect how an employee gets help before it is too late for them and for the bottom line of their employer.

“On top of this toll in money and human pain, mental illness is among the more difficult workplace problems to tackle head-on. Unlike most other diseases, it is one that many sufferers choose to leave untreated even when treatment is available. For them, the promise of some relief competes with the fear of being stigmatized because they seek help.” – Tom Gray Achieve Solutions- See more at: 
"Make America Great Again” was an idiom first used by Ronald Reagan when he announced his candidacy for President in 1979. The leading candidate so far for the G.O.P. nomination for president in 2016I, Donald Trump, uses the same phrase to show what he can do for our country because of his success in business.

As a mental health advocate, I beg to disagree with Mr. Trump. “First things first” is another idiom first used in 1545. It means the most important task gets priority, as in “I very much wanted to see that movie, but first things first-the paper's due tomorrow”.

In my opinion, we make America great again by rehabilitating our crippled mental health care system. It is a system that leaves more mentally ill people living on the streets than in psychiatric hospitals-- 26% of the nearly 600,000 American homeless—165,000 individuals were seriously mentally ill at any given point in time.  Over 200,000 with any mental illness are homeless; a system that makes approximately 356,000 inmates with serious mental illness in jails and state prisons—10 times more than in state mental institutions; a system that contributes to the suicides of 42,000 Americans each year—many of whom are between the ages of 15 and 24. The victims are young people who should be alive today contributing to the America economy to help make our country great again. According to a British study, “Not only does the stigmatization of mental illness prevent people from seeking treatment, which in turn exposes them to a greater risk of suicide, but also suicide can appear to be the best solution for a stigmatized individual”.

The financial impact of major depressive disorder (MDD) in America is $210.5 billion dollars each year. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States. 

“The prejudice and discrimination of mental illness is as disabling as the illness itself.  It undermines people attaining their personal goals and dissuades them from pursuing effective treatments,” says psychological scientist Patrick W. Corrigan of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

American industry can influence public policy, the law, and media. All three remain our greatest resources to stimulate change and spur action. “We also need to build bridges to other fields that connect to mental health, such as public health, primary care, and education,” according to a commentary by Former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Rebecca Palpant Shimkets, and Thomas H. Bronfman of the Carter Center Mental Health Program.

In taking this integrative, multi-level approach, the Carter Center commentators are confident that there is hope for the future: “Together, we can create robust systems and services all along the path of recovery and encourage early intervention and access to treatments without fear of labels or diminished opportunities. When that is achieved, we will know that our tireless efforts to eradicate stigma have been successful.”’

Harry Truman was the President when I was born. He said something in a 1951 speech to the American Legion attacking the Communist witch-hunt of McCarthyism that should challenge anyone who stigmatizes mental illness and paralyzes our goal of American greatness:

“When even one American - who has done nothing wrong - is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth - then all Americans are in peril."

- See more at: http://mvpseminars.com/blog/wellness/how-make-america-great-again#sthash.hP0ygAiX.dpuf

by Rachel Griffin

Here are 10 reasons why you (and I, and everyone else) need to stop stigmatizing people with mental illness:

1. It makes it harder to ask for help.

Those three words, “I need help,” floated behind the curtain of my mind for too long. They’d peek out — peek a little more — and then run back to hide again. I could feel the words trying to slide out of my mouth desperate to be heard, but shame would push them back again. When they finally escaped they wore a lot of costumes, hidden in “I thinks,” “Maybes” and “I’m not sure’s” to cover what I really needed to say.

When we make people feel like there’s something odd/shameful about having a mental health issue, we make it hard for them to admit they need help. Sometimes when they finally do, it’s only when they’ve become most desperate. What should have been a first step becomes a last resort.

2. It makes people feel like monsters.

Once, after telling a friend I took medication for depression, she had a dream I was chasing her with an ax. Because of what I said about depression! I was confused and so hurt. Me? The girl who took a cockroach out of her apartment to set it free? The girl who gave the building exterminator an orange freeze-pop and asked him to please not kill the mouse? It made me never want to tell anyone else ever again.

When the media shouts and obsesses over mental illness like it’s a fearful thing (“Did the mass killer have a mental illness?” “Monster shooter had depression!”) it misrepresents a whole group of people. They don’t often show people with mental illness who are doing phenomenal things in this world. Fear sells, but it also shames.

3. It can make you hurt people you care about, even if you don’t mean to.

Think of all the people you interact with and care about in your life. One out of four of them have a mental illness. You never know who’s listening and how your joking or comments affect them. Educate yourself about mental illness before you make hurtful jokes or get on your soapbox. All the cool kids are not stigmatizing anymore, so you don’t want to look like a goober.

4. It makes people feel alone.

When people don’t talk about mental illness (or whisper it like it’s dirty word) it makes people feel like it’s uncommon or something to be ashamed of. Stigma isolates, but community and connection can be an important part of healing. We need to know our people are out there. We need to know one day we will be welcomed with open arms.

5. It makes people feel guilty about taking medication. 

Because of some lame comments from people who I trusted (with no medical background) about medication, I’ve been off my medication about 10 times. I tried so many alternative therapies, but always ended up in the same position. Then when I went back on medication, I felt like a failure. It wasn’t until a brilliant, compassionate psychiatrist sat me down and said, “Stop it,” that I finally changed my attitude. She told me it wasn’t weak to take medication; it was strong. I wasn’t cheating life by taking it; I was cheating myself and everyone else by denying myself it.

Different methods work for different people, but never shame someone for taking medication for their mental illness. It can have devastating consequences.

6. It denies those with mental illness hope. 

I moved to New York City from a small town, and now I’m a graduate student at New York University. I have amazing friends and a supportive community. I volunteer and teach amazing kids. I’m happy. But there was a time I couldn’t imagine these things for myself. I didn’t have any role models who had a mental illness. I only knew the stigma.

When people with mental illness come of out the shadows, it shows others they can live successful, beautiful lives — with a mental illness.

7. It makes people feel weak.

When we shame people for asking for help, it makes them feel weak. The idea that anyone can just “get over” or “work though” a mental illness is outdated. On the contrary, it takestremendous strength to ask for help and stay with treatment. It’s badass.

8. It doesn’t help people get the mental health care they deserve.

Care for people with mental illness should be top-notch (I mean, we’re talking about the brainhere), but in my experience, it’s not. I’ve been treated like I’m a child. I’ve been on hold with insurance for 45 minutes only to be told there’s “nothing they can do.” I’ve noticed compassion is missing from our mental health system, and I think stigma is a big barrier as we work to improve our mental health system.

9. It causes lack of education about mental illness.

I remember when I started experiencing obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, I was so ashamed and didn’t understand what was going on. I thought I was just some kind of freak.

We need to educate kids, teens and adults about mental illness so when they’re experiencing the symptoms they’ll know what’s going on. When we are silent, they stay silent, sometimes delaying treatment long after symptoms occur.

10. It’s not compassionate.

We have to have compassion for people with mental illness. And those who have mental illness need to have compassion for themselves. Don’t believe the stigma, and get the help you deserve.

The new buzzword in Corporate America is “EI”—Emotional Intelligence. It relates directly to my mission in helping companies assist their employees who may have a mental illness or face substance abuse issues.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. What is the business payoff? According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ “...emotional intelligence accounts for 80 percent of career success.” 

“EI” embraces three skills:

1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;

2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving;

3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.

Emotional intelligence is positively and significantly related to mental health. There is growing evidence that emotional abilities are a relevant predictor of health and well-being.

An MIT study concluded “Both ordinary unhappiness and clinical disorders may follow from poor understanding and management of one’s own emotions. In everyday life, misunderstanding others’ feelings, lashing out impulsively in challenging situations, and failing to engage positively with others may all lead to stress and avoidable unhappiness.”

Is your workplace mental  health-safe to boost the “EI” of your employees?  “Promoting good mental health  in the workplace could be one of the most important steps an employer could take to improve an organization” according to Forbes magazine.

Whether you like him or not, Donald Trump summarized it best: “It’s important to focus on the solution, not the problem.”

“It's amazing how once the mind is free of emotional pollution, logic and clarity emerge.” 

--Clyde DeSouzaMemories With Maya

This is not another lame lawyer joke.  I want to tell you the story of a friend who was a lawyer many years ago in a small town in Arkansas. He was a 1975 graduate of the University Of Arkansas School Of Law. One of his professors would later become the 42nd President of the United States--Bill Clinton.

My friend, let’s call him “Ed”, hung out his shingle in his Arkansas hometown and practiced family law.  Like many lawyers as we’ve learned in recent years, Ed suffered from major depression. The stress of being a lawyer is enormous and how to manage it is something I doubt Professor Clinton or any other teacher addressed.  Ed self-medicated with alcohol to the point he became a raging, often violent alcoholic at home. After his wife divorced him, Ed got sober and attended AA meetings every day. Unfortunately, alcoholism was only half of his problem. He did not seek treatment for mental illness because of the stigma attached to mental illness for anyone in his profession much less the public in general. It was even discouraged by his AA sponsor who asserted rather self-righteously that anyone taking an antidepressant could not claim to be “sober”.

As Ed’s depressions deepened and his ability to work weakened, Ed decided one Friday afternoon to check into an upscale local hotel frequented by tourists visiting the Ozarks in his part of Arkansas. He scribbled a note on a hotel notepad in his room, took a 38-calibre pistol from his briefcase, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Ed left behind two young boys who lived with his ex-wife and a lot of friends in AA as well as other lawyers shocked over Ed’s suicide.

Dan Lukasik founded Lawyers with Depression after he started descending into an incapacitating depression. 

"The stigma is huge with mental illness and depression in this country,” Dan said. “You're supposed to be a problem solver, you're supposed to be a superman or superwoman. You're not supposed to have problems," he said. 

"The general public already has a problem with lawyers and when I started to talk about this problem they didn't want to hear it. They thought, 'a person who makes a lot of money and has this job should not be having this problem,’ " Dan explained.

As I reflect on my friend Ed’s life and death more than 20 years later and as I engage in my campaign against mental illness stigma, I want to reach out to students in law schools to tell them what I wish I had known what I know today when I was a graduate student in journalism school. I faced similar pressures meeting deadlines and trying to beat the competition all the while self-medicating with alcohol for chronic depression too afraid of stigma to reach out for help.  I also look at Ed’s death and whisper to myself “there, but for the Grace of God, go I”.

According to a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention studylawyers rank 4th behind dentists, pharmacists and physicians (in that order) in terms of the highest per capita suicide rate. It is middle aged, white trial lawyers who are most likely to kill themselves.

Working lawyers are thought to have higher rates of depression than the average U.S. citizen. Some research indicates their rates are approximately 3.6 times that of average occupations. Of course, not all lawyers suffer from depression and suicidal ideation, it just happens to be more common in this particular occupation.

Statistics indicate that lawyers are 1.33 times more likely to kill themselves than an average citizen. Consider these grim figures:

·        Fifteen attorney suicides since 2010 in Kentucky

·        Six attorney suicides in 18 months in South Carolina

·        One suicide a month for an entire year in Oklahoma

The New York Post reported on the suicide of 56-year-old lawyer Joseph Gioffi last February.

“He was a nice guy but was quiet and withdrawn,’’ a neighbor said.

Mr. Gioffi jumped to his death from the 15th floor of his luxury Chelsea apartment building early one Sunday morning after leaving two notes behind—one in his wallet and the other in his apartment.  Police say he may have been taking medication for anxiety or depression.

In late 2008, a student at the Charleston (SC) School of Law committed suicide.  Around that same time, a student at the USC School of Law died of alcohol poisoning.

The rate of substance abuse among lawyers is twice that of the general population. The South Carolina Bar formed the HELP Task Force in November 2008 and to examine the problem developed the quality of life survey.

The skyrocketing rates of depression and suicide in recent years have led to the implementation of mandatory psychological evaluations for lawyers in certain states.

Estimates from around the country indicate that the incidence of substance abuse among lawyers is as much as double the national average. Substance abusers are 10 times more likely to commit suicide.

My friend, acclaimed California trial lawyer Gary Gwilliam, knows something about alcoholism and is reaching out to other attorneys showing them a better way.

As Gary told his story in Plaintiff Magazine, June 11, 1984 was the day he began his first serious attempt at sobriety.

The magazine noted that “A failed intervention set up by his second wife, Liz, and his unyielding resistance to Alcoholics Anonymous programs – something he attributes directly to his biological father – left Gary to clean up on his own. Reading became his rehabilitation. He began with books about the disease and was taken in. He then turned to titles under philosophy, religion and other self-improvement areas, absorbing volumes of information that focused on getting and staying well.

The result, he says, was a spiritual awakening and a realization that alcohol truly was an impediment to living a full life. With the exception of a brief relapse two years later, Gary has been sober ever since.”

I highly recommend Gary’s book Getting a Winning Verdict in My Personal Life for anyone in law or any other profession who is fighting the demon of mental illness and/or alcoholism.

As always in my blog posts, the bottom line is forget the stigma and reach out for help from a trained professional before your life ends far too soon as did my 35-year-old brother’s and 40-year-old sister’s.  

Sometime in 1866, probably in his lodgings in San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel near Sutter and Montgomery, a broke freelance journalist named Samuel Clemens put a pistol to his head. We know this, or think we do, because of a marginal note he scribbled into a book the year before he died under his other name, Mark Twain:

“Of the demonstrably wise there are but two: those who commit suicide, & those who keep their reasoning faculties atrophied with drink.”
- Notebook, 1898

What we don't know is why he came so close to suicide in San Francisco in 1866, or why, thank God, he came no closer.

That was before he leaped into literary history in 1867 with his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”.

To all in the legal profession or any other profession, remember the words of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill who had his own mental health challenges:

“If you're going through hell, keep going.”

- See more at: http://www.mvpseminars.com/blog/wellness/why-are-lawyers-killing-themselves-0#sthash.Kc2fiUaG.dpuf
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

March 2014 Lyon, France. You may remember the shocking headline:

Orange France investigates second wave of suicides among staff

Ten employees killed themselves in the first three months of 2014, most over what the company, formerly France Télécom) says are “work-related” reasons.

Between the beginning of January 2008 and April 2011, more than 60 France Télécom employees committed suicide, some leaving notes blaming stress and misery at work.

Although there haven’t been such notable concentrations of workplace suicides at one company in the U.S.,  270 people committed suicide at work in 2013, the last year for which data are available—a 12 percent increase over the previous  year.

There are over one million  suicides worldwide each year. The rate is continuing to rise -- particularly in the workplace, according to a new study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

There were 1,700 suicides on the job in the United States between 2003 and 2010. The study also found that workplace suicides were 15 times higher for men than for women.

This speaker and writer urges preventative measures in the workplace where mental illness costs $44 billion in lost wages in the United States each year, yet many employees may not report their illness or seek treatment due to stigma or the fear of losing their jobs.

Fear of stigma in the workplace is a very personal matter to me as I watched my Father hide his mental illness from his employer until he died of heart disease at 62.  (Depression Stigma: A Family Tragedy)

In business, of course, there is always a bottom line:

The economic cost of suicide death in the U.S. was estimated in 2010 to be more than $44 billion annually. With the burden of suicide falling most heavily on adults of working age, the cost to the economy results almost entirely from lost wages and work productivity.

To being prioritizing mental health in the workplace, according to John. F. Greden, M.D., executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center is to focus on the office atmosphere. Center.

"Employers can establish new and innovative workplace mental health programs that are tailored to the population that they have working there," Greden told HuffPost. "They can inform workers where to turn for help if they're struggling. They can create a climate that encourages employees to talk to each other when things aren't going well."

Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Saleman points to the danger faced by many workers. It is about Willie Loman’s struggle. His wife Linda said:

“I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”

          --Linda, regarding Willy. Act I

Linda’s speech is a direct cry to human dignity. All men deserve respect and attention. No human being is disposable. No man should die without feeling he mattered. That is how a depressed employee feels until he or she is treated by a professional, but getting to treatment means getting past stigma.

- See more at: http://www.mvpseminars.com/blog/wellness/could-there-be-suicide-your-workplace#sthash.XorborI5.dpuf
Health problems associated with job-related anxiety account for more deaths each year than Alzheimer's disease or diabetes. 

The impact stress is having on society as a whole is so profound that?Psychology Today calls cortisol, the stress hormone, "Public Enemy Number One".

It is unrealistic to think we can create a stress-free workplace, but stress can be reduced saving billions of dollars in lost productivity and ultimately in saving lives. 

Causes of workplace stress: 

 * Inadequate health insurance that may result in a financial burden for the employee or worse yet delayed treatment. In fact, shift work and long work hours were also associated with worse health generally, and bad health decisions?like smoking. 

 * Decisions about work hours and shift work have profound consequences affecting sleep and conflicts with family life. 

 * A 2005 study noted that those who reported high levels of feeling overworked were 20 percent more likely to say that they had made lots of mistakes on the job, which could be especially problematic for those with physically demanding or dangerous positions. 

 * The stress that comes from the combination of low job control and high demands has also been found to contribute to issues like cardiovascular disease. * Conflicting priorities between work and home have a negative effect on mental health, and have been linked to some substance-abuse issues. 

According to new research by AXA PPP Healthcare in the U.K. following the Germanwings disaster, seven in ten bosses do not regard stress, anxiety or depression to be valid reasons for employees to take time off work.

AXA PPP Healthcare surveyed 1,000 senior business managers, managing directors, chief executives and owners and 1,000 employees and found that 69 per cent of bosses did not believe mental illness warranted time off work. Yet a quarter of managers admitted they had themselves suffered from mental illness at some point

Although stress is not a disease, it is the first warning sign of an impending problem; if the body experiences unimpeded stress, acute and chronic changes occur, leading to long-term damage to systems and organs within the body. 

How can the workplace be less stressful? 

 * Top-down efforts to foster a more collegial and secure working environment may lead to happier and healthier workers.  
* Company-wide events and mentorship programs can?help in tackling high stress levels for employees and the associated health costs for employers. 

 * Efforts to retain employees for significant periods of time might help too, since workers tend to feel more secure and form more supportive social networks when there is some level of consistency within the employee pool, according to research. 

Specific ways owners and managers can help reduce excessive stress in the workplace:

 * First, be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress in order to effect the appropriate organizational changes; 

 * Take action aimed at stemming these sources and types of stress. 

 * And it is essential they understand the various coping mechanisms available and help individuals select the most appropriate ones. Learning to manage chronic stress is an essential life skill in today?s world. If you find that you are exposed to high levels of stress on a daily basis, it may be best to consult a mental health professional. They can help you learn essential coping strategies that may prevent a physical ailment before it even begins, or alleviate symptoms that you are already experiencing. As cancer survivor and best-selling author Kris Carr said, "If you don't think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days."