How Can We Make Mental Health A Priority in the Workplace – author – Darlene Slaughter

Have you ever known someone who worked non-stop? They’re the office go-getter, always available to support the team and take on extra work. But what do you do when their enthusiasm seems out of balance?

Passion for work is common. Using passion for work to mask a mental health issue is common, too. Even people we think we know well can put on a public face to protect themselves from its associated stigmas. Mental illness is one of those equalizers that doesn’t care who you are.

Today, 1 in 5 people in the workplace have some form of mental illness – from drug and alcohol addiction to depression and bipolar disorder. But we don’t talk about it openly and honestly enough. For managers, it can be difficult to strike a balance between noticing warning signs of someone in need and getting past the trust issues they have about disclosing that need. For some employees, it’s terrifying to disclose their diagnosis because they’re afraid of the potential judgement and repercussions that may follow.

The bar for frank conversations about diversity and inclusion is already difficult to reach. And judgments around race, gender and orientation are exacerbated by mental health stigmas. America’s corporate culture hasn’t done enough to make the 16 percent of Hispanics, 18 percent of African-Americans, 13 percent of Asians and 28 percent of American Indians with mental illness — and the LGBTQ community who are at least twice as likely to be living with it — feel secure in just showing up.

So how do we protect colleagues who have been hurt and isolated by previous encounters with racism, sexism and homophobia from feeling even more hurt and isolated? I don’t think there’s a one-size-corrects-all solution. But I know the effort starts when leaders make themselves available to hear the concerns of their employees. Many managers aren’t aware of the resources available to help employees navigate these issues.

As leaders, we increase the productivity and responsiveness of our teams when we show compassion, concern and empathy for them. When we humanize mental illness, we introduce the tools and language to talk about it and save lives, particularly for people of color and LGBTQ people who are already less likely to receive treatment and confront insensitivity if they do. We make people a priority. Just as important, we give our colleagues permission to let their masks slip so we can help them when they need it.

About the author: Darlene Slaughter, Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer of the United Way US Network, is a recognized leader in diversity and inclusion. She recently authored a chapter for a book promoting women’s leadership advancement, offering honest insight and advice into how she gained confidence in the workplace, opening the door to more leadership opportunities and helping her better understand how to use her strengths to support others’ growth. Mastering Your Inner Critic … and Seven Other High Hurdles to Advancement” hits newsstands Dec. 3, 2018. 

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