Guest Blog: May is Mental Health Month by Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, NAMI Minnesota

Guest Blog: May is Mental Health Month by Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, NAMI Minnesota

As we finally emerge from the cold dark winter our thoughts turn to spring — and green. Not the green from our grass or the leaves on the trees, but to mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and green is the color being used to symbolize awareness.

Mental health is a continuum, from having very good mental health to having a serious mental illness. Good mental health means being able to learn, express a range of emotions, form and maintain good relationships, and cope with change and uncertainty.

Common Signs of Mental Illness

  • Difficulty concentrating; lack of focus
  • Unable to tolerate stress or time pressures
  • Problems remembering things
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Lack of cooperation; can’t be flexible
  • Responds poorly to feedback
  • Tardiness or frequent absences
  • Hyperactivity, sluggishness, lethargic
  • Decreased productivity
  • Emotional, angry, bursts into tears

Like any health care condition, it’s important to identify symptoms early and seek treatment. One in four adults and one in five children live with a mental illness. Promoting good mental health, such as learning to deal with stress, can help, but making sure a mental illness is identified and treated early may prevent it from becoming a disabling condition.

Unfortunately, people aren’t comfortable talking about mental health or mental illnesses. There is a cloak of silence around it. During the month of May we encourage people to talk about it.

You can direct people to the Make It Ok campaign or the NAMI Minnesota website to learn more about mental illnesses, how to talk about it, and to request a speaker.

Facts About Mental Health in the Workplace

  • On average, workers with depression lose 27 days per year of work, 17 of which are due to lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization’s Health and Work Performance Questionnaire.
  • Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses, but they also include ADHD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
  • Untreated mental illnesses increase health care costs. People frequently go to the doctor with unexplained symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain or stomachaches, when the underlying issue is a mental illness.
  • People with certain health care conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, or back problems may be more likely to develop depression and may be less likely to follow treatment regimens.
  • Less than half of people experiencing a mental illness receive treatment; those who do often do not receive adequate treatment. People may receive only medication and not be engaged in psychotherapy and other activities that will help them get better.
  • Barriers to accessing treatment include limited insurance coverage for mental health treatment, inability to find a provider, and stigma.
  • Accommodations for a mental illness are often inexpensive and effective.
  • Employment is an essential step on the path to recovery from a mental illness.

Action Steps Employers Can Take

  • Direct people to the Make It Ok campaign or the NAMI Minnesota website.
  • Reassess benefit plans to ensure adequate coverage for mental health treatment is included.
  • Examine what your organization does to promote good mental health and early intervention when symptoms arise. Compare how you educate employees about other health conditions to what you do on mental health.
  • Train supervisors and managers about mental illnesses and accommodations that will be beneficial to employees.
  • If your organization has lunch­time educational sessions on things like heart disease or diabetes, hold one on mental illnesses. It’s important for employees to know that these are treatable medical illnesses. NAMI Minnesota offers a free Lunch ‘N Learn on mental illnesses.
  • Promote available tools and resources such as employee assistance programs, work/life balance programs, health coaches, nurse lines, and mental health benefits.
  • If you conduct employee health assessments, check to see that questions about stress, depression and other mental health conditions are included.
  • Educate employees about the benefits of proper diet, exercise, and sleep in preventing and treating mental illness.
  • Consider the needs of employees who have a family member living with a mental illness or having a mental health crisis. As is true for most caregivers, they may need time off to deal with the situation.

Helpful Resources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Workplaces That Thrive: A Resource for Creating Mental Health-Friendly Work Environments.

Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Foundation, A Mentally Healthy Workforce – It’s Good for Business.