When it comes to mental health, a lot is at stake, in personal lives and the workplace. While mental illness does not discriminate, they are primarily silent illnesses — and people often suffer in silence because of the stigma enveloping the topic.
Unfortunately, mental health is a personal issue that employees can’t easily leave at home; however, more businesses are addressing the realities of the topic.
“Businesses are starting to talk more about mental health in the workplace, but they’re playing catch up,” said Kevin Fischer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Michigan. “I’m glad corporate America is getting involved in the conversation; but for far too long, they have not done so.”
The lengths to which mental illness takes a toll on business are far-reaching. NAMI’s statistics indicate that American companies lose $193 billion annually in earnings directly attributed to mental illness. Fischer said that is due to the tremendous effect mental illness has on productivity in
“Most businesses don’t know that it’s that big of a burden because they don’t talk about it,” said Fischer.
While many places of employment offer employee assistance programs, they are often unknown to employees.
“Little do they talk about or make employees aware that they provide mental health services or what those services are,” Fischer said.
Some companies have initiatives dedicated to fostering change, including American Express.
“At AmEx, raising awareness around our programs and services that support colleagues on their individual health journeys is more important than ever before,” said Dr. Charles Lattarulo, director of the American Express Healthy Minds program, which prioritizes mental health and provides ample resources to employees.
Poor performance and unexplained absences are not uncommon in employees facing mental health challenges. Fischer utilizes personal experience to educate how mental illness affects employees and employers. For example, his son, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in 2007, became the focal point for Fischer, who, at the time, held a corporate office position at a leading corporation.
“His diagnosis was very serious,” Fischer recalled.
Constant worry led to underperformance at work, and he often had to prioritize.
“I’d get a call from the university my son was attending, the hospital or law enforcement stating that my son was in the hospital because of a mental health emergency. So, I would walk off the job and drive five hours to care for my son,” he said
Until 2009, when Fischer quit his job, his employer remained in the dark.
“I received poor performance reviews and had conversations with my boss about my lack of performance, but I never told them why. It wasn’t fair to them,” he said.
Productive conversations about mental health need to become commonplace in business environments.
“We’re talking about mental health, but still not making employees feel comfortable to be open and honest,” Fischer said.