Mental Illness and the Workplace Part 1 of 5: An Introduction

Editor’s note: This is part one of a five-part series addressing mental illness in the workplace. Part one explores mental illness in the United States, part two explains ways in which mental illness affects work, part three explains when and how to tell a manager about a mental illness, part four addresses how managers should best proceed with an employee who has a mental illness, and part five makes the connection between the dental industry and depression.

In order to address this topic, we first need to get something out in the open, and that something is mental illness. It’s well-known that mental illness carries a stigma within any society, but I’ve been noticing a recent push to bring it more to the forefront, which is a good thing. Most notably and in the news are celebrities that have been openly discussing their struggles in hopes to normalize the issue and help others who are fighting their own battles know they are not alone. In the last couple years, actress Kristen Bell has talked about her anxiety, singer Demi Lovato went public with her bulimia, actor Russel Brand has referred to his bipolar disorder in his writing and performances, and Olympic athletes Michael Phelps and Simone Biles have talked about how ADHD has affected their lives.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported in 2014 that about 43.6 million adults ages 18 or older in the United States were living with some form of mental illness. While this is a large number, the 43.6 million–18.1 percent of all U.S. adults–includes only those who have sought medical attention, which tells you there are likely millions of others who have gone undiagnosed. NIMH also reported that stigma is the main reason three-quarters of all people with a mental illness do not seek treatment. Another sobering statistic comes from PBS, which reported that one of every two Americans develops a mental illness at some point in their lives. With that said, at any moment in time, about 20 percent of the population has a mental illness. This holds true for all developed countries.

In the PBS Newshour article “How Your Mental Health may be Impacting Your Career,” reporter Christopher Prinz writes that very little is known about why so many people suffer from depression, anxiety or addiction to drugs and alcohol. What is known, however, is that mental illness has severe consequences on the life of those who are diagnosed both socially and economically. “In the U.S., people with a mental illness are two to three times more likely to be unemployed, and their employment rate is 15 percentage points lower than for those without mental health problems,” Prinz writes. “They are also more likely to call-in sick, often for longer periods, and to under-perform at work.”

According to “Mental Health Problems in the Workplace,” an article published by Harvard Medical School, symptoms of mental illness affect many of those who are currently employed–a fact that is usually overlooked, as these disorders tend to be hidden at work. Because of the stigma, many employees are reluctant to seek treatment out of fear of their jobs becoming jeopardized and, therefore, don’t receive the help they need to make their work life easier. But the employees who opt to get help solely because their work is suffering may still not receive the proper treatment. Clinicians seeing patients who are suffering at work may find themselves simultaneously trying to treat a patient for mental illness while providing advice about dealing with the symptoms at work, which doesn’t allow them to adequately address the root of the problem. “As a result, mental health disorders often go unrecognized and untreated — not only damaging an individual’s health and career, but also reducing productivity at work,” the article reads. “Adequate treatment, on the other hand, can alleviate symptoms for the employee and improve job performance. But accomplishing these aims requires a shift in attitudes about the nature of mental disorders and the recognition that such a worthwhile achievement takes effort and time.”

In this four-part mental illness series, I’ll be expanding upon the above information while exploring the actions necessary–from both the employee and the employer–to best serve the needs of a person with mental illness. If you or someone in your office is struggling with mental illness, be sure to follow this series for ways to address it.


Katie Devereaux

Resume Coach and Blogger at Dental Temps Professional Services
Katie Devereaux is a writer and editor, who graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. She has written for several publications in Florida, Alaska and Illinois.
Katie Devereaux

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About Katie Devereaux

Katie Devereaux is a writer and editor, who graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. She has written for several publications in Florida, Alaska and Illinois.