Bernie Wong | Senior Associate, Mind Share Partners
Despite the growing popularity of stress and wellbeing programs at companies, individuals with mental health conditions are often still seen with negative perceptions and stereotypes. Even though 20% of Americans will manage a mental health condition every year, these misconceptions have been shown to reduce our ability and willingness to understand and support these individuals. The fact, however, is that a majority of them are actively working and contributing in the workforce.
Here are 5 common misconceptions about mental health conditions and what it means for your company.
Myth #1. Mental health conditions are rare.
The prevalence of mental health conditions are actually quite common, if not the norm. Every year, 1 in 5 Americans will actively manage a diagnosable mental health condition—that’s 20% of our population. Over the course of a lifetime, upwards of 80% of individuals will manage a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their life. In fact, the prevalence of mental health conditions are greater than diabetes, heart disease, or any kind of cancer. What’s more, these statistics don’t include the individuals who fall short on clinical diagnostic criteria or those who don’t seek treatment either. In reality, the individuals who never manage mental health symptoms or a condition are the overwhelming minority.
What it means for your company: U.S. companies are losing 217 million days or $17 billion in productivity every year. Not having systems, processes, or tangible benefits to support mental health is creating a large unmet need that negatively impacts the company.
Myth #2. Mental health conditions are always severe.
The perception that mental health conditions are always severe and debilitating illnesses is misleading. In 2016, 44.7 million adults were managing a mental health condition, yet less than one-fourth of these were categorized as “serious” or substantially interfered with or limited one or more major life activities. A majority of mental health conditions—while they certainly impact the quality of life for individuals and still warrant continued support, awareness, and movement-building in the field—do not prevent individuals from leading functional lives.
What it means for your company: There are employees who are managing a mental health condition and successfully leading your teams and growing the mission and vision of your organization. However, the way we conceptualize and treat these employees is both alienating and stigmatizing. It’s time to change the perception of these individuals and support them as valuable contributors to our companies.
Myth #3. Mental health conditions end careers.
Mental health conditions are almost exclusively framed as disabilities which disrupt and negatively impact people’s ability to perform at work. However, a 2018 UCSF study finds that mental health conditions are disproportionately represented in entrepreneurs and high-performers, with some symptoms actually lending themselves to high performance and high achievement. In Mind Share Partners’ professional communities, we have heard directly from professionals managing mental health conditions that manic episodes from bipolar disorder have helped with creative thinking, while low energy from depression has helped identify and implement optimized workflows.
What it means for your company: Often framed as a disability, individuals managing mental health conditions offer unique skill sets that make them effective high-performers. By creating policies and systems to support these individuals, companies can retain this talent rather than stifling or driving them out.
Myth #4. Mental health conditions are permanent.
Mental health treatment has only become more effective in recent years through new research and practice. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that up to 80% of individuals with mental health conditions can be symptom-free with the right combination of treatment and support. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 78% of adults with mental health symptoms agree that treatment can help people managing mental health conditions lead normal lives. The newest research is beginning to show that “a substantial component of what we describe as ‘disorder’ is often short-lived, of lesser severity or self-limiting.”
What it means for your company: A company has the ability to provide invaluable support and access to treatment for a mental health concern. This is not only supporting the overall health of the employee but maximizing productivity and optimizing company outcomes.
Myth #5. Mental health is an issue that’s solved outside of the workplace.
More often than not, mental health is treated as a personal issue. The standard protocol for handling employees who share they are struggling with a condition is to place them on a leave of absence or to send them to therapy—both of which take the individual out of work and neglect resolving potential causes of distress. We have heard from our professional communities that being productive at work can benefit mental health in a healthy work environment. On the other hand, there are many workplace factors that can negatively impact mental health including poor communication, high job demands with low control, low social support, and many more. In fact, the workplace actually has an independent impact on mental health irrespective of any preexisting conditions. This means that your workplace can not only worsen existing mental health conditions but actually cause new mental health conditions to develop, and leaving these issues unresolved will only continue to perpetuate cycles of toxicity.
What it means for your company: Mental health is a combination of individual and environmental factors, and your company practices are affecting employees’ mental health for better or worse. Companies can choose to create organizational policies, systems, and a company culture that actively supports individuals managing mental health conditions or choose to neglect the health of the individual and the company.
Supporting employee mental health is a company’s responsibility. As a 2015 NAMI report writes, “employee education about what mental illness is, combined with practical advice about how to break the silence and offer help, is essential.” With effective education, training, systems of support, you can help lead the movement to create mentally healthy workplaces—and we’re here to help.
Mind Share Partners workshops equip managers and colleagues to build safe spaces, facilitate hard conversations, and learn tools and strategies to navigate and normalize mental health at work. We help participants navigate how to be both a compassionate human and a compliant professional in the workplace.
Bernie is a Senior Associate at Mind Share Partners. He focuses primarily on organization programming, marketing, and design. Prior to Mind Share Partners, Bernie was an Associate at HopeLab, a human-centered design consulting nonprofit, where he developed evidence-based products and solutions to support mental health and wellbeing.
Bernie has also worked in freelance visual design, in education at Stanford as a Head Teaching Assistant, and in editorial work and academic research. Bernie also sits on the board of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA) Foundation, a grassroots philanthropic organization that provides funds and leverages resources to empower Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ students, organizations, and communities.
Bernie holds a Master of Health Science in Mental Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from UC Berkeley.