Mental Health: Taboo in Many Companies

For a long time, I thought that if mental health was a taboo topic in many companies, it was due to the fact that there wasn’t enough information about it around. It seems, however, the knowledge is out there, but when you actually examine some of the popular beliefs, you realise there is an incredible amount of lies and myths surrounding mental health.

The unknown is scary, and many believe that if we don’t know how to handle certain situations, it’s best not to engage so as not to cause any further damage. But we can actually defeat the unknown with information and psychoeducation. However, people don’t really care about this issue that much, and that also contributes to thinking mental health is a subject best avoided.

I’ve worked in different companies, offering external services in Venezuela, Chile and Argentina, and I’ve frequently heard that “You cannot do therapy inside the company because roles get mixed up”, or that “every person needs to take care of their own mental health problems, leaving the company aside.”

I do agree with the first claim: the process of therapy needs to have certain characteristics, which are’t possible within the company setup. For example, a therapist shouldn’t really share therapeutic space with anyone else except the patient concerned, otherwise their relationship may become compromised. Therefore, a therapist inside a company that treats you and another partner may not be the most efficient thing, not to mention it’s not really ethical.

However, I do have something to say about the second claim. Even though it would be ideal for every person, together with their primary support network (family and friends), to be in charge of their own treatment or psychological guidance, we shouldn’t ignore the whole environment in which we, human beings, interact, and that includes our workplace. In fact, in its research, the WHO has pointed out that a negative work environment directly affects mental health through stress, anxiety, depression and substance dependency.

That’s why I believe it’s important for mental health to be addressed by organizations, maybe not by offering therapy to employees directly, but by means of preventive activities and support.

Mental Health in Times of Pandemic

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have had no choice but to actually look at the big elephant in the room. If there’s no illness, then people are mentally healthy, but healthy interactions among people are also important and, in that sense, since we’re now working remotely, certain aspects of those human interactions had to be redefined.

In addition, it isn’t surprising that the levels of stress have risen in the past few months due to the current context. There is chronic stress and burnout, but we are also dealing with specific situations, such as the fear of contracting Covid or losing our jobs, and all this makes us worried and anxious. Unfortunately, a person who suffers from stress or some sort of mental discomfort loses productivity, and we shouldn’t think of it as a “whim”, or “weakness”, least of all “manipulation”. In this situation, companies need to start paying attention to stress and take action, regardless of how many tools they have at their disposal to face the situation.

Actions to Take Care of People’s Health

Some preventive measures are necessary to maintain our well-being. These should be oriented towards developing good personal and interpersonal habits, as well as supporting actions, such as avoiding judging other people and instead supporting them as much as our tools allow us to. Some examples of these actions could be:

- Offering team building workshops and/or activities to foster team integration. In that sense, at intive we had integration workshops, virtual after offices, etc.

- Organizing lectures about mental health awareness in the work environment (burnout, expectations management, habits, etc.). For example, our HR team has written several articles about mental health, alognside with Less Stress, an in-house program.

- Putting together good practices manuals for team work, and training people on them, as is the case of our communication workshops.

- Promoting flexibility and active pauses during working hours. In our case, we have developed a handbook of good practices while remote working that includes active pauses and muscle stretching exercises.

- Explaining that the company offers spaces for sharing and that it supports employees in their career plan, among other topics which promote integral well-being; in other words, what we are developing with the People Partner role.

- Looking for a professional who could give us advice on work environment, culture and well-being in companies, and show us different techniques how to improve it.

Guidelines to Create a Healthy Work Environment

It may sound obvious, but the most important thing is to promote good and healthy communication. This may sometimes be mistaken with the absence of conflict, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Conflicts are part of human nature, and we should really work on trying to solve them through effective and assertive communication.

In addition, it’s important to have people around us who might be willing to listen to us, and whose role would be to provide solutions to work-related problems, such as a career plan, expectations of the management, lack of motivation regarding a job position, flexibility, to mention but a few.

Integration through team building is also vital, because when looking for a more complete form of well-being, it’s important that the company we work for feels like a second or third home and that we feel comfortable working there with our colleagues.

We mustn’t forget that we should be able to speak out loud about our good practices in our everyday work, and about promoting and demanding mutual respect. It’s not enough to be “available”, we should be able to talk about it.

Mental Health and Its Impact on the Business

It’s true that companies have a primary activity to which they devote their time and effort. However, results won’t be completely positive if certain issues related to mental health are ignored, since it’s people who run businesses. Mental health should be seen as an investment of time and economic resources, the profit being good work performance and positive results.

If we look for balance, the outcome is favourable. Good health brings about well-being and, consequently, productivity. If we keep on refusing to accept and address mental health issues, living standards decrease, together with employee satisfaction. A person who doesn’t feel comfortable at work will feel less and less motivated, and that will be reflected in their productivity.

To round up, let me quote the WHO: “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” In this definition, it becomes clear that it’s beneficial for any company to take care of mental health adequately, promoting certain actions so that it stops being a taboo, and becomes just another area of the company.

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