Keenan Blog

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Mental Health Issues in Our Workforce

Kathy Espinoza 8/13/2014
Kathy Espinoza

During my lectures and webinars on suicide and bullying prevention, I have often emphasized the importance of having counselors at the elementary school level to identify students with high-risk issues before they develop into problems. High-risk children often don’t have the skills to handle life as they grow up: becoming prone to join gangs; who don’t have the ability to handle social pressures and conflict; who target and are the target of bullying; potential drop outs; experiencing dysfunctional or abusive home lives; and kids who self-harm and develop suicidal ideation. Elementary counselors work with teachers and principals to identify issues at an early age, provide strong intervention programs and positive behavioral development.

What about the mental health of our adult workforce?

depressionDo people come in to work and talk about their depression? Typically, depression carries such a strong social stigma that it is not discussed at work. If it is mentioned at all, it is usually framed as someone having a “bad day,” or “always in a bad mood.” As we recover from the worst recession known to this generation, is depression a side effect we can ignore?

The social stigma attached to mental health is similar to the way cancer was once viewed. Years ago, no one wanted to be around someone with cancer because of ignorance and prejudice from lack of education. Today, cancer is a treatable condition. We know the importance of fighting it and how much the support of those around us – both at home and at work – contributes to recovery.

Mental health and depression today are where cancer was years ago. Not many people talk about their bipolar child; or a brother who has mental health issues and refuses to take medication; a parent who committed suicide; a spouse who is struggling with depression and won’t see a doctor; or about themselves and the effort it takes to get out of bed each morning.

Like cancer, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone, regardless of their profession, gender, ethnicity, economic background or age. There are many in the workforce today who suffer with depression and think it will just pass. Depression is highly treatable. Too often, they don’t get professional help because of the cultural stigma associated with it.

The movie Silver Linings Playbook did a phenomenal job of detailing the struggles of a family with mental health issues. It brought to light what those with mental illness go through, their recovery efforts and the trials of attempting to create a functional life. The film reveals that we all have our issues—clearly some have it worse, but deep down, we are all the same.

I am saddened by the passing of Robin Williams, who suffered from depression. Changing public perception of mental health challenges will take time—as it did with cancer. When a family faces mental health issues it makes a difference if we listen, exercise empathy, let go of assumptions and judgment. Encourage others to get help if you sense there is a problem. Most important, be compassionate with yourself and loved ones in tough times. Mental illness is not about fault and blame. With treatment, lifestyle changes and medication when necessary, depression can be overcome.

To learn more about depression, take 4 minutes to watch a World Health Organization video:
“What Is Depression? Let This Animation With A Dog Shed Light On It.”