Humans of HR: Tackling Mental Health at Work

November 20, 2019 Mike Wood

4-minute read

Don't give up

Mental health is something I’ve struggled with all my life. When I was a kid, I just assumed that I was feeling down and stressed in the winter months because it gets dark at 4:30 in New England, and I wanted to go out and have fun. There is some truth to that, as there is a condition called seasonal affective disorder that links depression to lack of sunlight. Makes sense. No one wants to be stuck in the dark for an entire season

But when I also started to feel depressed in the summertime, I knew it was more than just the seasons. I would feel this knot of anxiety in my stomach. I’d be worried all the time. I’d wonder if I was liked, if I’d ever make something of myself, if my friends only liked me for a laugh or if they genuinely liked being around me. There were days I didn’t want to get out of bed

I was smart enough to know that my life was pretty good and there was no logical reason why I should be feeling so anxious and sad. I made an appointment with a therapist and was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft. Almost immediately, it evened me out. I no longer went from one extreme emotion to the other – I was centered, more like the me I wanted to be.

I was cautioned against telling people I was on Zoloft. People said, “You shouldn’t need a pill to be happy.” But what if I do? What if the chemical balance in my brain is naturally skewed? Just like I have a higher risk of certain cancers, my sadness and anxiety could be genetic.

I decided to open up to others about it. To me, my Zoloft pill is just like the pill someone else takes for high blood pressure. It’s something that allows me to start each day on an even keel – mostly. I still struggle at times, but I know the warning signs and can make adjustments to my medication if needed. I also found other things that help – like going for a walk or run or reading – to take a step outside of my head to decompress.

Last month I interviewed Workhuman® Live 2020 speaker Dan Tomasulo, Ph.D, about psychological capital. We also published new research on stress at work and we looked at the cost of toxic cultures and strategies to rise above them.

To augment the discussion, I asked our Humans of HR group for their thoughts about mental health in the workplace in a survey and recent Twitter chat. Take a look at their responses and remember to take care of one another.

Do you think the stigma against mental health is decreasing? Why or why not?

“I think the stigma is decreasing in the mainstream media, but the average workplace finds itself stuck in old problems. How do we provide for someone’s needs in this area while maintaining our company objectives? The resources to support those struggling with mental health issues are limited for some companies and keep a poor stigma around those who would come forward asking for help.” – John Baldino, president at Humareso

Twitter chat

Twitter chat

Twitter chat

What can HR departments do to make sure their employees receive the support they need without lingering bias?

“We have to help our teams know that there is not a bias regarding mental health needs, while maintaining the belief that the quality of work this individual brings is needed and of value. If the person understands that he/she/they are needed, the receptivity to the support process and focused resources is much healthier. We can’t ignore the person’s contribution to the whole while we support the individual situation. HR has a critical role here, filled with clear communication, compassion, and consideration.” – John Baldino, president at Humareso

What is often overlooked in terms of mental health at work?

“Mental health struggles can manifest in different ways, such as inability to focus, absenteeism, outbursts, missing deadlines, etc. Employers should consider this when there are performance issues and find out if there is any additional support the employee may need. It can also be overlooked that an employee can need an accommodation for a mental health issue, not just a physical health issue.” – Tamara Rasberry, HR manager at National Community Reinvestment Coalition

Anything else you’d like to add about mental health at work?

“Part of supporting the mental health of your employees is to not allow them to be overworked and overwhelmed by expecting them to be always accessible or for one employee to do the work of three or four. This type of stress can lead to burnout, which can lead to depression and other issues. Be flexible. Be compassionate.” – Tamara Rasberry, HR manager at National Community Reinvestment Coalition


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About the Author

Mike Wood

Mike was the former Industry Relations Manager at Workhuman.