How Can Mental Health Discussions Move Beyond Depression?
Mental health and wellbeing discussions have entered the mainstream, slowly but surely.
Whilst discussing mental health in the context of the workplace may have previously been considered taboo or not ‘work appropriate’, there has been a significant shift in the discourse.
With this awareness has come a particular emphasis on certain areas of mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and the concept of wellbeing in a wider sense.
As we move forwards and hope to evolve discussions around mental health, will this be enough?
What is ‘mental health’?
For starters, the language around mental health has thankfully evolved considerably beyond ‘mental illness’ and the criminalisation of those with mental health conditions.
However, mental health can often be viewed under the lens of commonality – and in some cases, acceptability – rather than a more nuanced understanding.
Many of us will instantly think of depression and anxiety when we hear the words ‘mental health’, or perhaps a wider overview of how mental health impacts an individual…
But what about the conditions that fly under the radar, or are still dealing with significant stigma?
The argument could be made that the focus on depression and anxiety specifically relates to commonality or prevalence – as depression and anxiety are more common, naturally, discussions around mental health will focus on these areas more.
Though data can be difficult to extrapolate when it comes to the global prevalence of mental health conditions (as there is both uncertainty in the data, demographic bias and other factors to consider), research indicates the following:
– 264 million people have depression
– 284 million people have an anxiety disorder
– 46 million people have bipolar disorder
– 16 million people have eating disorders
– 20 million people have schizophrenia
Though research is still rather spotty regarding global prevalence, there are still strong indications that depression and anxiety are considered the most prevalent mental health conditions.
But why does this matter?
We’re missing the full picture
Just because we might encounter or hear of something once and therefore start to notice it everywhere, doesn’t mean that it has a higher frequency occurrence.
(That’s actually a cognitive bias called the frequency illusion, or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon if you want to be fancy.)
There’s a high likelihood that your workplace is full of individuals who are not only experiencing different mental health conditions but also experiencing their mental health conditions in different ways.
This includes individuals who may be dealing with more than one mental health condition at once, known as comorbidity, who may be lacking support for both conditions.
Unknowingly, many organisations will be perpetuating the idea that there are the acceptable and supported mental health conditions (e.g., depression and anxiety) and the unacceptable and not supported mental health conditions (e.g., bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD).
The question for employers and the wider workplace…
Is enough being done?
How can you begin looking beyond depression and anxiety?
It should be noted that many individuals with mental health conditions will choose not to disclose their condition to their employer/workplace.
Therefore, whilst you might assume that nobody in your organisation has a mental health condition outside of depression and anxiety, it is likely that you do and that they simply haven’t disclosed it.
With this in mind, it’s important to ask why these employees wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable disclosing their condition – is it due to a lack of support in the workplace? Or worse, is it due to stigma in the workplace?
Whilst your current mental health strategy may be very accommodating and supportive of depression and anxiety, does it cover other conditions at all?
Here is a list of common mistakes that are made in mental health policies:
– Not mentioning mental health conditions by name (or only mentioning depression and anxiety)
– Treating all mental health conditions with a blanket approach (e.g., messaging around your mental health policy assumes that all mental health conditions benefit from one type of support)
– No awareness is raised, or training given around multiple mental health conditions and the types of support that can be offered for them
– No emphasis on the importance of inclusive language (e.g., referring to someone by their condition rather than as having it – “They’re bipolar,” rather than “They have bipolar disorder.”)
– A lack of leadership support raising awareness of the wider mental health strategy
The bottom line
There seems to be very little sense in making an effort to address mental health in the workplace if it’s only going to apply to a couple of specific groups.
In the same way that diversity and inclusion are vital in the wider workplace, it’s important to be inclusive in your approach to mental health.
Showing your commitment to each individual means acknowledging the wide variety of mental health conditions they may experience, whether through the use of language, raising awareness, or offering a broader range of resources and support.
Strides are already being made with mental health in the workplace, so there’s never been a better time to improve your strategy.