The Case for Professional Communities and Mental Health Peer Groups

Bernie Wong | Senior Associate, Mind Share Partners

Mental health conditions in workplaces are common—16% of individuals employed full-time and 23% of individuals who worked any job in 2016 managed a mental health condition. But high performers are not precluded from mental health conditions either. A 2018 UCSF study found that mental health conditions are just as prevalent in entrepreneurs—individuals we strive to recruit to our companies and emulate in the cultures of our organizations.

Despite its prevalence, talking about mental health conditions at work is still overwhelmingly stigmatized. A 2015 RAND study found that 70% of respondents would not disclose a mental health condition to a colleague. In a 2017 Deloitte report, 95% of employees who have taken off time due to stress named another reason, such as an upset stomach or a headache.

Clinical care is an integral component of an individual’s broader network of mental health support, but it can be hard to find a community of individuals with shared experiences around workplace mental health despite the benefits that peer support can provide.

In fact, mental health peer support services are considered an evidence-based mental health model of care. In meta-analyses, peer group participants have displayed a reduction in clinical symptoms of anxiety and depression and an increase in subjective quality of life as well as hope, self-esteem, and empowerment—factors also correlated with self-stigma.

Internalized stigma, in turn, has been shown to be associated with symptom severity as well as lower treatment adherence due to the fear of the label of mentally ill. Providing peer support to others has also been shown to reap other benefits, including increased self-confidence, emotional stability, and sense of purpose and meaning in life.