It’s Time We Started Talking About Mental Health at Work
13 de October de 2021
13 de October de 2021
Leaving our emotions and mental health at the doorstep when we come to work is becoming a thing of the past. Talent and emotional problems both travel through the same space: the mind. Mental health issues are a reality that we can no longer sweep under the carpet.
Mind related health issues have always existed but, during this last year, they have increased significantly. Uncertainty regarding our future as workers and the isolation that working from home brought about are some of the causes for having 26% of Spanish workers dealing with anxiety, depression or psychological disorders. Studies like the one carried out by the World Health Organisation confirm that 1 out of 4 adults suffer from psychological disorders — a number that reaches 35% when we take into account people under 34 years old, according to the Mental Health Report carried out by Opinium.
In spite of the alarming numbers, emotions and psychological problems are still being kept in the dark, either because they are considered taboo subjects or because of the fear of having them affect our professional reputation. We ask for days off or work leave when someone in our family is ill or if we have physical problems, but we find it hard to ask for time off when the problem we have is in our minds. The term “Mental Health Day” is already normal in the US and laws have been written in order to protect those employees who want to take days off for their mental health. Accepting that mental health is an integral part of our well-being at work —and the well-being of others’— will only bring benefits to everyone, as professionals and as people.
On October 10, like every year, it was World Mental Health Day —an initiative pushed by the World Federation for Mental Health— and we wanted to be part of it. So, we contacted Isabel Aranda, Work Psychologist and Professor at EAE, and we asked her some questions!
Mental health comes from having a good balance in the quality of the physical and psychological aspects of our life. When we experience symptoms that deteriorate this quality of life —like sleep alterations, lack of attention, lower decision making abilities, mood alterations, hopelessness, lack of energy, struggle to self-regulate daily emotions— it’s possible that our mental health may not be optimal.
Studies show a decrease in psychological well-being in the general population. According to a report published during the second wave of COVID by the Spanish General Board of Psychology, 40% of people in Spain showed serious or moderate depression symptoms derived from COVID-19. Stress has skyrocketed due to the uncertainty caused by temporary workforce reduction programmes and the changes that working from home brought along. According to a survey carried out by the well-being platform Ekilu, 2 out of 5 people feel anxiety related to having to go back to the office, while 54% say that their stress is greater.
Public administrations and some political parties are already echoing the growing demand to acknowledge psychological assistance as primary care, which could be a fundamental step towards solving the mental health impact that COVID has had.
Body and mind are a unity. There’s no physical health without psychological balance. However, physiological problems are given absolute priority while we ignore other problems.
In order to take the taboo factor out of the mental health matter, the first thing we must do is to accept that it’s an important part of what makes up our quality of life and to normalise the use of psychological services in the same way we have normalised visiting a doctor when we experience problems with our bodies.
We have to be guaranteed that, in the work environment, days off and leaves will be granted for anxiety-depressive cases in the same way they are granted for a broken knee. And, of course, we need to rest assured that leaves related to psychological symptoms can not be linked to lay-offs nor will they undermine our professional careers.
The most frequent are anxiety-depressive cases linked to the stress of having to face situations that are deemed too hard to handle.
Regarding the taboo factor, the problem comes from a rationalist society where measurable evidence is alway prioritised. For example, we never question the values in a physical analysis paper, but we do question the degree to which people don't feel well for not being able to face their daily life.
Legislation obliges companies to pay attention to the psycho-social risk related to work and to reduce the stress of their employees. Intervention plans include:
We couldn’t agree more with Isabel. Paying attention and taking care of our mental health will allow us to know ourselves better and feel like we’re being true to ourselves. There are numerous studies that tell us about the benefits of mental health in the workplace: it improves productivity, increases commitment and it promotes employees’ loyalty. Regardless of the evidence, not even one third of employees receive the mental health services that they’re in need of, which brings negative consequences both for the companies and the employees.
Although we know that human capital is the most valuable resource in the business world, there’s still a long way to go in order to improve how we understand employees’ health and well-being in the work environment. Attention and care for our mental health must be more present and accessible inside the company and there must exist a safe space for dialog, support and empathy for those who require it.
The rise in cases that we’ve seen during these last years served two purposes: to expose the existence of workers’ mental health issues and to get companies and governments to start implementing support measures in order to address this situation.
Article created in collaboration with: Isabel Aranda, PhD, HR Professor at EAE.