Mental health in the Workplace is no joke

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When was the last time you felt someone minimized your emotions or mental state? There has been so much talk about mental health lately and I've realized how dangerous it is when it is overlooked in work environments. We spent more time at work than at home, so an unstable workplace can lead to mental health issues. 

I often feel like the typical American mentality in the workplace is usually about producing and little has to do with taking care of those who are making the production happen. Does it sound familiar? Bosses ordering all around, deadlines that seem impossible and that are only met at the expenses of compromising the employees' health, both mentally and physically? A human being can only do so much at a fast rhythm until their body shuts down.

There are numerous studies about mental health in the workplace. During my research, it was disappointing -but not surprising- that most of these studies where focused on how much money companies lose due to mentally-ill employees, rather than how companies negatively impact mental health. Seemed to me that it was about how dealing with the consequences than to creating change in how companies carry themselves and treat their employees. 

The World Health Organization says here that by 2030, 12 billion working days will be lost to untreated depression and anxiety. Yes, that sounds alarming but, what if we focus on creating healthy work environments because life matters instead of because it is a money-wise move for corporations?

I have had my fair share of toxic work environments and, while I am now lucky to be on a very employee-first organization, the wounds that toxic environments leave aren’t easy to heal. To shed some light on this situation, I’ve interviewed Ingrid Quiñones, an industrial psychology graduate.

Q: Do you consider mental health in the workplace as a taboo topic?
A: I believe so, but it will depend on the organizational culture. 

Q: Tell me a bit about mental health in the workplace. Do you think it is given the importance it deserves?
A: Mental health is the state of emotional balance that enables a person to achieve its goals. When talking about it within a work environment, that balance could be impacted if in this environment there are problems such as: 
  • High level of stress
  • Poor working conditions
  • External factors such as health problems, personal situations, psychological issues or economic difficulties
Q: Based on your research and experience, which factors can impact mental health within a work environment? Both negatively and positively.
A: In a negative way:
  • Work stress: this can be caused by demands that sometimes don’t apply to the job position. It might be requirements that are challenging in nature or unrelated to the job description.
  • Working conditions – Is the workplace adequate? Sometimes the space is small, the temperature is not comfortable.
  • Work schedules – when an employee works rotating schedules, this inconsistency can be a risk factor because of how the body is in a constant state of alert.
On the contrary, these are factors that can positively impact mental health:
  • Communication – promoting an effective communication between management, employees and coworkers is very important. This not only includes verbal communication, but also written communications, in which we often rely so much.
  • Recognition – recognizing the work employees do not only impacts its mental health but also its productiveness.
  • Autonomy – giving employees the opportunity to take the lead and believe in their capabilities helps greatly their self esteem and mental health. Micromanagement is not only outdated but puts unnecessary pressure on an employee that is most likely aware of what his/her responsibilities are and is committed to fulfilling them.
  • Career and skills development – helping an employee on his professional development takes the pressure off of them to try to balance work with extracurricular activities. When the employer creates and individualized development plan, the employee feels valued.

Q: What are some of the symptoms of mental burnout?
A: Symptoms can include:
  • Physical problems: lost of appetite, stomach pain, sleeping problems.
  • Low self-esteem: the person doesn’t feel fulfilled
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depersonalization – the person’s work is inconsistent; their mental state is negative, and they don’t involve themselves with their duties.
A burnout can cause post-traumatic disorder (PTSD). There is treatment to help with burnout as well as prevention techniques. 

Q: What are some of these prevention techniques? 
A: Some of them are:
  • Taking care of your physical health
  • Eating healthy and not skipping meals
  • Sleeping 6-8 hours per day
  • Work out
  • Establish limits for every given task, allowing yourself to rest when needed
  • Establish short and long-term, realistic goals to keep yourself motivated and eliminate --unnecessary pressure
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After having experienced the aftermath of toxic workplaces, I can't emphasize enough that we must begin to pay more attention to our mental health. A job is important, but nobody is irreplaceable. Don't compromise your well-being for a company that doesn't care. There are other organizations that do care and will protect their employees and encourage them to lead a healthy lifestyle. The healthier you are, the more productive you can be. Put yourself first. Let's pay more attention to our mental health and realize how vital it is to protect it.

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Photo credit "Self care": Madison Inouye from Pexels
Photo credit "Black and white": Juan Plablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels


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