Over the average lifespan, it’s hard not to be impacted by mental health issues. For many, this comes in the form of their own struggles, while others experience it second-hand. Still, others go so far as to get their Ph.D. or other advanced degrees to understand mental disorders better. From deeply rooted struggles with intimacy to habitual patterns that lead to self-destructive behaviors, mental illness can appear in many different ways. Yet, it affects us all to some degree.
At every stage of life, mental health problems can cause severe issues, be it impacting adolescents at school, adults in the workplace, or any person in any other element of their lives. Your mental health can affect you and your life in various ways, from a person’s physical health to their ability to live productive lives.
Through adulthood, in particular, these mental health conditions can be incredibly challenging because of their impact on productivity and a person’s ability to meet the expectations of adult life. Yet, despite the prevalence of mental illnesses like anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), OCD, schizophrenia, depression, and others, society is not set up to adequately support those who suffer from their symptoms.
Their career can become yet another detriment to managing mental disorders for those who can hold a job. And, as a result, the conditions themselves can worsen—after all, the fear of losing your job because of your mental health issues causes plenty of stress, which is hardly supportive of good mental health. Generally, it’s more challenging to receive disability support for mental health conditions (not that the process is easy, by any means, when it comes to physical health), so a job can be the difference between affording to live or struggling to support yourself and your family.
However, there are ways you can improve your mental health in the workplace, despite the challenges that can seem impossible. From self-advocacy and a work-life balance to mental health support outside of your professional life, you can take action towards healthier minds at work—not just your own, but those of your colleagues, too.
1. Set appropriate boundaries.
If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic taught us about mental health in the workplace, a distinct work-life balance is crucial to a person’s well-being. So whether you’re still working remotely or you’re commuting to the office each day, assign yourself realistic goals for every workday. Then, once you’ve put in your day’s work and head home, permit yourself to unplug entirely, taking care of yourself and promoting better mental wellness.
These boundaries can work on a more personal level, too. Perhaps most notably, it’s crucial to overcome feelings of perfectionism, which are frequently associated with mental health issues. Perfectionism at work is not without its advantages, urging employees to act with remarkable levels of conscientiousness and determination. Just as easily, though, it can lead to rigid, impossible standards. As a result, even if you’re the only one holding yourself to this nonviable expectation, you can face higher levels of anxiety, depression, burnout, and other mental health problems. In these cases, the necessary boundaries are, most importantly, with yourself.
On the opposite side of this spectrum, mental health conditions coupled with a lack of boundaries in the workplace can ensure that a person suffers from feelings of self-degradation. In addition, when you lack confidence in your efforts, your own voice can harm your mental health and your quality of work, too. By setting healthy boundaries at work and at home, you can regain your self-confidence and get your mental wellness and work back on track.
2. Advocate for yourself and your colleagues.
Self-advocacy is a critical part of improving your mental health in the workplace. Perhaps the simplest iteration of this is recommending positive changes your employer could make, whether it’s marking World Mental Health Day (celebrated on October 10) with a series of workshops or supporting employees all year round through accommodations and benefits. When in doubt, you can turn to resources from organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America (MHA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mental Health Partnerships (MHP), or the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). From addiction recovery services to creative development, your employer can take in resources like NAMI or NIMH and offer greater support to your team as a whole.
Whether they’re introducing workers to the NAMI family-to-family program (which helps participants better support a friend or family member dealing with mental disorders) or they’re supporting a person’s ability to deal with their own anxiety disorder, PTSD, or other mental health condition, these resources allow employers to better support their staff’s mental wellness. Proper precautions and protocols can be the difference your company needs to promote both professional and personal development. Your employer may even be able to get involved with promotions like #act4mentalhealth or the NAMI helpline to better support both team members and mental health conditions more broadly.
If your employer is unresponsive to suggestions like these, it’s equally critical to understand your rights as an employee. A hostile or unsupportive work environment is, at its core, a sort of traumatic event you experience every day. Organizations like the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outline reasonable accommodations and the legal responsibilities of an employer in supporting a staff member with mental disorders. Whether you’re facing delusions, OCD, schizophrenia, or something else entirely, your workplace can not use stigma to discriminate against you in the workplace, just as they can’t when it comes to physical health problems like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
In an even simpler sense, simply being open about your mental health disorder (when it’s safe to and you’re comfortable doing so) can make your workplace align more with the treatment of mental disorders in terms of everyday living. For example, if one employee deals with a mental health crisis, be it relationship issues, stress management struggles, or something else entirely, it’s easy to feel alienated and unsupported. However, when they know that their peers can relate or empathize, they’ll feel better supported and more secure in their jobs despite struggling with emotional wellness. So, if you’re willing and able to share your personal story or be more open with your own difficulties, you can contribute to creating a safer, more inclusive workplace.
3. Consult an expert.
Whether you’re dealing with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), mania, hallucinations, compulsions, obsessions, or just a low mood in general, reframing your work environment and mindset won’t always be enough to create positive life changes more broadly. In these instances, scheduling an appointment with a therapist, mental health counselor (MHC), or other professional is essential. Your therapist can conduct a full assessment, understand your mental health concerns, and outline coping tools from relaxation techniques and medications to counseling and alternative health services like acupuncture or aromatherapy.
When visiting a NAMI provider or other mental health professional, you might even realize that your physical health contributes to the poor mental health you’re facing. In these cases, you may have to undergo blood tests or other diagnostic tools to see whether a vitamin deficiency or similar condition could harm your emotional state. In addition to efforts like contemplative meditation, counseling, or spiritual direction, this personalized health education can craft the individual intensive improvements you’ve been searching for.
In most cases, it will take at least a few appointments before psychotherapy, medications, or other aspects of your mental health action plan start making a difference. You may even decide that a more intensive treatment, like a therapy retreat, might be an even better, more impactful solution. In any of these cases, you’ll learn to practice your own mental health first aid and be able to return to your place of business with these new skills in tow.
A lot goes into mental illness, from biological factors to a family history of mental disorders or mental illness. Clinical research shows that an overwhelming number of people deal with mental health conditions. Yet, the average workplace and society more broadly are created around an absence of mental disorders and the struggles that come with them. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take towards improving your mental health in the workplace. From introducing your employer to NAMI basics and other resources to attending a therapy retreat to enhance your own well-being, you can take control of your mental well-being at work.
When in doubt, you can always turn back to resources like NAMI, NIMH, MHA, MHP, and other mental health partners to learn more about new ways to improve the workplace and everyday living. Even CDC recommendations may come into play! So whether you run social media workshops from the comfort of your home or you struggle with evening relaxation after working through a labyrinth of paperwork at the office, the proper insights can help you practice self-forgiveness and better support your own needs.
For some, this may mean finding your own voice in advocating for a better workplace. For others, it may be attending both an individual retreat and onsite workshops to reach new emotional milestones. You may utilize reiki and energy therapy or practice mindful movement through hiking or other activities. You might learn to deal with fatigue, better handle disagreements in your workspace, or even embrace spiritual studies on your pilgrimage to personal transformation. In any case, one fact remains certain: there is undoubtedly a method that’s a good fit for you and your needs, at work, at home, and everywhere in between.