Welcome to May: Mental Health Awareness Month
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” - Ellie Wiesel
It’s natural that, as we grow older, we will identify ourselves with those experiences, activities and interests that consume us. Depending how you choose to spend your time or the things that are important to you, you may self-identify as an animal lover, a film enthusiast, a foodie or perhaps a sports fanatic. I personally consider myself a globetrotter, outdoor adventurer, bookworm, and entrepreneur.
And I am also someone who lives with a mental illness.
That is not an easy statement to say publicly, much less write, because of the stigma that is often associated with having a mental illness. Many people who suffer from a mental illness feel their professional career will be affected negatively. If colleagues knew your secret, surely, they would think differently about you, perhaps even question your reliability or your judgment. At best, they’ll merely feel uncomfortable around you, not knowing how to act or what to say. At worst, they will doubt your very ability to do your job.
But part of removing this stigma is bringing the topic of mental illness to the forefront by being honest, stepping up, sharing our personal stories and supporting others. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, there is no better time than now.
Like millions of people around the world, I am someone with a clinically diagnosed mental illness. I have struggled with bouts of depression, mania and anxiety since I was a teenager. For as long as I can remember, it’s been a major part of my life, yet I have always been determined to not let it stop me accomplishing whatever I set my mind to and living a full life. I had my first serious depressive episode while I was in high school, yet, graduated in the top five percent of my class and attended Syracuse University on a full-academic scholarship.
After starting a career in corporate communications and marketing with a major Canadian investment bank, I returned to school to complete a master’s degree and transition into a career in HR and Recruitment. Five years ago, I started my own business which has become more successful than I ever imagined, bringing me into the very special community of parking professionals who I now call friends and family.
My mental illness has had both positive and negative impacts on my life and career. My drive and tendencies for absolute perfection has propelled me to academic excellence and professional success. I like to pride myself on doing only the very best. Yet my “overly-responsive” emotions have made receiving criticism from superiors personally devastating and interactions with colleagues awkward at times. But each time I have had a setback or experienced failure, I take away valuable lessons-learned, making sure to process what happened and plan for what to do differently in the future.
While my exact struggles may be unique to me, mental illness is not unusual. In fact, as paradoxical as it may sound, mental illness is a part of “normal” life. Research suggests that up to 80 percent of Americans will experience a diagnosable mental health condition at some point during their lives, with one in five adults experiencing mental illness in any given year.
Unsurprisingly, the large number of people struggling with mental illness has a real impact on business. The CDC reports that depression alone results in over 200 million lost workdays every year. It’s estimated that serious mental illness costs the U.S. over $190 billion in lost earnings annually.
Today, people are your most valuable resource. And while we have done much to promote diversity at work, there’s a giant hole when it comes to recognizing the importance of how employers can accommodate the wide range of emotions professionals experience in both their personal and professional lives.
We need to provide workplaces that are more flexible, sensitive and open-minded surrounding the mental health needs of employees. Just as we provide the necessary time and treatment for a broken bone or burst appendix, our minds and emotional well-being need the same level of attention and care.
The way employers address mental health is important. Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working and many people spend more time with their co-workers than they do their own spouses or kids. Providing a work environment that promotes a positive mental well-being helps your employees to be at their best.
Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportune time for employers and business leaders to consider steps they can take to help achieve such a workplace. Whether you implement mindfulness programs, provide an Employee Assistance Program as a resource or encourage more open conversations about mental wellness through sharing stories of mental health struggles, employers who understand mental health issues and how to respond to them can make all the difference.