Combating the stigma of mental illness in the workplace

It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, and individuals and organizations across the nation are coming together to help demystify and educate the public about the realities of mental health conditions. Here at Castlight, we firmly believe in the importance of breaking down the barriers that prevent those struggling with mental health illnesses from getting the care they need – that’s why we offer solutions that help streamline employee access to the right care at the right time.

Today, we are thrilled to share the following guest blog post from Anne Fischer, Executive Director of NAMI San Francisco. Continue reading for Anne Fischer’s first-hand insight on the imperative of combating stigma in the workplace and the steps you can take to achieve this goal.

Imagine a break room conversation about a co-worker who has been diagnosed with diabetes. Chances are, everybody would express concern and want to support their colleague. Now insert the word ‘depression’ in the place of diabetes. Would the conversation be the same?

No, it wouldn’t. Chances are high that the conversation wouldn’t even happen because the affected person would have kept the diagnosis to him or herself. That’s the tragedy of mental illness in the workplace. Although 70% of people with depression are in the workforce, the surrounding stigma prevents the majority of them from getting treatment. Not surprisingly, that silent suffering extracts a huge toll in lost productivity. In fact, mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the workplace.

This is Mental Illness Awareness Week, the perfect time to take action. Our most effective weapons are deceptively simple: conversation and public education. Positive role models, supportive news coverage and people in everyday life talking about it—that’s how things will change.

I’ll start the conversation here by debunking two common workplace myths that unfairly damage professional reputations and prevent people from getting jobs.

Although it’s been fifteen years since the Decade of the Brain, the association of depression with a flaw in character continues to persist. That couldn’t be more wrong. Mental illness is a biological illness, like any other disease. Sufferers can’t just snap out of it. They are not wallowing in self-pity, but rather functioning in the midst of often-enormous suffering. Instead of back-room judgment, these employees need open acceptance and treatment for a condition that responds to treatment 80% of the time.

Now let’s examine the even uglier stereotypes around more severe mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Too often people view these diagnoses as illnesses without the hope of treatment or recovery. Doctors often perpetuate this misperception by telling newly diagnosed patients that they’ll have to adjust their expectations about what they can achieve in life. The reality is that with early identification and treatment, most can live fulfilling and productive lives. Nobody should drop out of college or fear losing out on a job due to a history of mental illness.

Public conversation and education about the realities of these illnesses are vital. How can you help? Start talking. Check out CEOs Against Stigma, which helps managers effect long-term change throughout their companies. And take NAMI’s StigmaFree Pledge. Then encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same. After all, raising public awareness happens one person at a time.