Our culture's understanding of mental health has come a long way in recent years. To begin with, "mental health issues" are no longer synonymous with "crazy". As a society, we have come to understand that stress, anxiety, and depression occur naturally without any moral flaw on the part of the individual who is suffering.
But there are still frontiers left to be pioneered and one of them is the workplace. The workplace has made progress as well, and that should not be overlooked. Many companies provide health insurance that includes access to mental health services. Some companies have designed their offices to be less stress inducing, an acknowledgment of the affect that environment has on wellbeing. But the lingering taboo in the workplace is being enforced by a kind of code of silence.
It makes sense. If you had to tell your employer you had a medical emergency and needed a leave of absence, they would understand. But for some reason, saying you have a mental health issue sounds worse and casts your standing in the company in a different light. Likewise, it is not something that we think to share with our coworkers, clients, partners, or anyone else in our professional lives because there is a lingering stigma. It has been called the final workplace taboo.
But there are leaders in the business community who are working to change that in 2017. These are the efforts being made to normalize mental health in the workplace:
VR Headsets for Everyone Grand gestures are appropriate when trying to move the needle of public opinion. Protests, despite having no direct influence on legislation, are fundamental to harnessing public opinion around an issue. Likewise, when Provata Health, a widely respected health and wellness company, released Provata VR, its own guided meditation app with virtual reality display, it wanted to go one step further. Beginning in December, Provata started sending VR headsets to its clients.
"When employees are at their best, both physically and mentally, they are happier and more productive," explains Alex Goldberg, founder and CEO of Provata Health. "While there's been significant growth in digital tools and wearables for physical health, it is unfortunate that we have not seen many digital tools to tackle our mental health. We are fixing that by expanding digital health to new frontiers with virtual reality guided meditation to improve the overall wellbeing of the workforce."
Recipients of the headsets include officers with the Department of Corrections, women's health clinics, and numerous corporate offices. While treating mental health is the primary aim of the project, normalizing mental health in the workplace may be an equally valuable outcome.
One of the challenges to overcoming the stigma is training. How do you recognize mental illness when you see it? And when you do identify it, whether in yourself or someone else, what are you supposed to do?
Five hospitals in Duval County, Florida have launched a program to train 10,000 people in mental health first aid over the next three years. The program features an eight hour course, which covers identification, treatment, and stigma normalization.
St. Vincent's Healthcare CEO Tom VanOsdol says, "That's really a big part of the long-term solution is making sure we have access to services and enough services in the right locations so individuals, who don't necessarily need to go to the emergency department, can get the care and the treatment they need for underlying mental health issues."
At the top end of the corporate world are a consortium of businesses that have the power to acknowledge mental health as a normal thing and act on it. By acting on it, they send a signal to the rest of the business world, and the economy as a whole, that we ought to care for people suffering from these issues, not castigate them.
The British Banker's Association recently announced that it would be working more closely with mental health institutions to find ways to better serve people struggling with illness. Some disorders can cause people to forget PIN numbers, be afraid to open mail or answer the phone, or lose track of their expenses. These are issues that banks can help their clients to avoid through policies that take their challenges into consideration.
The corporate world can, and seems to be, taking steps towards normalizing a very normal problem. But for each success story, there are myriad places where mental health is still a taboo. Efforts made by corporations, hospitals, and wellness companies to provide training and technology to address the problem are essential.
"Mental health has no boundaries," says Goldberg. "People cannot simply put a mental health condition 'on hold' while at the office. As a result, mental health is one of the leading causes of lost productivity and absenteeism. If we are going to solve this crisis, we need to provide tools to people where they spend most of their day--at work."