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Understanding Mental Health in the Workplace

1. Mental health conditions are incredibly common. In any given year, nearly 20 percent of US adults have a mental health condition (and over 50 percent will manage a condition at some point in their lives). We are more likely to experience a mental health condition than cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.

2. Your best employees may have a mental health condition. Despite the stigma of mental health diagnoses, the same conditions that can create occasional challenges can also drive success. For example, people with anxiety may be more driven to excellence. Those with bipolar disorder can be highly creative and have periods of tremendous productivity. Additionally, those with mental health conditions tend to have greater empathy for others' struggles, which can translate to strong management skills.

3. Most people hide their conditions at work. Even though mental health conditions may affect your staff, you might not realize it because of the lengths they go to to "cover" their symptoms. According to a RAND study, more than two-thirds of employees hide their conditions from their coworkers. A Deloitte UK study found that 95 percent of people who have taken time off due to stress gave another reason, such as a headache or stomach issue. Covering is an added burden for already struggling employees, one sometimes greater than the condition itself. It diminishes an employee's sense of personal opportunity and his or her commitment to an organization, leading to decreased engagement.

4. Because of the stigma, most workers don't get treatment. Eight out of 10 workers with a mental health condition report that shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment, which can typically be very effective. In addition, regular therapy appointments are difficult to keep when employees feel they can't explain why they need a time out of the office, often on a weekly basis.

5. Addressing mental health at work results in major cost savings. By some estimates, approximately $17 billion is lost in productivity annually when organizations fail to support employees with mental health conditions. It manifests in leaves of absence, as well as in employee absenteeism and "presenteeism" (going to work without being productive). Acknowledgment of and support for mental health generates cost savings and higher morale, which can make your organization a more inclusive and desirable place to work.

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