Mental health is something a lot more of us are thinking about during the pandemic. As human beings, we need social interaction, and we get mental stimulation from the people around us. When we don’t, we feel sluggish at best, and severely depressed at worst. So why don’t we hear more conversation about mental health in everyday news? The fact is, there is a strong mental health stigma that grips many people – both at home and in the workplace. Which, in the era of virtual work, have become one and the same. We need to improve mental health awareness, as mental illness can contribute to many serious conditions.
Mental Health Definition
The first step towards awareness is speaking up, so let’s talk about mental health. By definition, mental health encompasses all aspects of our emotional, psychological, and social being. Your mental health is unique to you and you alone. It informs how you think and act – from childhood all the way through adult life. What gives the mental health definition so much depth is that it encompasses both our nature and nurture. When people run into mental health problems, there are certainly biological factors at play. Life experiences, however, also play a big role. Even though almost 20% of the adult population experiences mental illness, it can be hard to see it coming. Unlike with physical illnesses, mental illness symptoms take a lot of shapes and forms. Some may experience anger and mood swings, while others may just ball up and struggle to get through routine tasks. All these different symptoms in part make mental health conditions difficult to recognize – and create a sense of stigma.
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Mental Health Stigma
Make no mistake about it. Stigma is an ugly product that we, as humans, manufacture from misinformed beliefs. Formally, stigma means viewing someone in a negative light due to a trait perceived to be a handicap. Mental health stigma emanates not only from others but also from within ourselves. Think about it logically. If someone sees their own mental illness as a weakness, is that person going to seek mental health resources or sweep everything under the rug? Sadly, many choose the latter. In the workplace, mental health stigma comes up quite often. When individuals struggle to meet deadlines and complete deliverables due to mental health issues, many managers simply write them off. As a result, a lot of employees avoid talking about mental health at work. The best way to combat stigma is by listening, acknowledging, and helping others get help.
Mental Health Resources & Awareness
The good news is that mental health awareness is increasing. Mental health-focused non-profits are popping up all over the country. These organizations offer a place to speak up for those affected by mental illness as well as allies. For those with serious conditions, there are plenty of medical-grade mental health resources. Mental Health First Aid, a leading subject matter website, provides a compilation of different hotlines and licensed providers.
Mental Health Awareness Month
A quick plug for mental health awareness month! The United States observes mental health awareness month in May of each year. Additionally, world mental health day on October 10th provides an opportunity to fight back against misconceptions surrounding mental health. You don’t need to wait for a mental health day however, to take action. Find time in your day to consider your own mental condition, and the condition of others close to you.
Effects of Social Media On Mental Health
Ah, the allure of social media. We all know that feeling of “autopiloting” through a feed, somehow comforted by the activity of people in our network. The sense of comfort is actually scientific. Social media triggers the brain in a way that releases dopamine, the body’s “happy” chemical. But there are also negative effects of social media on mental health. Apps like Instagram create virtual social cliques where people oftentimes feel left out, alienated, or jealous. Such emotions can lead to anxiety and depression. Like anything, social media in moderation can be healthy. But left unchecked, the effects of social media on mental health can be crippling.
Mental Health At Work & Effects On Productivity
We talked about mental health at work from an employee perspective, but what about employer responsibility? Not many employers step up to address mental health at work, but there are incentives to do so. Mental health conditions cost employers billions of dollars and millions of lost work days every year. Companies that create cultures of acceptance, where conversations about how to improve mental health take place, will keep employees happy. And a happy employee is a productive employee.
How To Improve Mental Health
Aside from formal mental health resources, there are plenty of ways to give yourself a little mental health therapy. Some are personal and others more interpersonal. From a physical health perspective, staying active, eating well, even meditating, all help provide a mental health boost. Spending time on hobbies and passion projects is good as well. On the interpersonal side, caring for others and simply talking about your feelings both have therapeutic effects.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. It just sometimes feels less tangible, since we don’t go to the gym to build mental strength like we do physical strength! The more we can relate to our mental health, the more we can cut down on mental health stigma. And for many people, that starts with mental health at work. Both employers and employees have an obligation to encourage, not discourage, mental health conversations. As awareness continues to improve, the hope is that everyone affected by mental health will feel properly supported in all aspects of life.
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