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Is Your Mental Health Taking a Hit at Work?

How to Raise Awareness About the Importance of Mental Health to Your Co-workers and Superiors

“Rewarding Reads” is a space for articles and personal essays meant to be thought-provoking and informative for human resources professionals, from sharing the “human” perspectives on workplace issues to book reviews of business titles we find inspiring. Have an essay or blog post to share? Contact us at workspan@worldatwork.org.

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When I profiled Nik, a wealthy equity investor in Hong Kong for the MY JOB series, he let me in on a little secret: His cushy, luxurious job did not make him happy. In a big city like Hong Kong, bumping shoulders with some of the richest businessmen, he realized something ambitious men and women find out too late in their careers: “You’re living for other people’s expectations that other people try to push on to you or teach you. It’s ultimately your responsibility, but the dimension that’s so hard to quantify or to tap into is what actually makes you happy.”

So what if you’re not happy at work? What if the feelings of stress, sadness, and anxiety have taken over and you can’t remember a time that made you happy? This isn’t an issue of boredom, of not being challenged enough. It’s an issue regarding your mental health and well-being. And these feelings will only build up if you don’t release them. Here’s how you can address your feelings in order to have a clear, healthy headspace at your workplace:

Talking to Your Co-Workers

One thing you to remember when you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression is that you are not alone. Not only does no one suffer alone, but you aren’t the only one feeling this way, either out there in the world or even at work. The person you make small talk with in the breakroom, or the person you share an elevator ride with every morning could be feeling just as rundown as you are.

However, some people still view mental health as a taboo subject in the office, so it’s important to keep this in mind when bringing up your own mental state to them. Start small with a more generic statement about how you’re feeling, such as: “I’ve been feeling really rundown and tired at the office lately,” “What TV shows or books take your mind off of work?” or “This project has been stressing me out, do you have any good remedies on how to release stress?” These small statements can serve as a gateway for them to open up to you about how they’ve handled these feelings. The more you talk about it, the more comfortable this topic becomes. Before long, a co-worker can become a trusted confidant. And sometimes, that’s all you need.

Talking to Superiors

While it’s nice to have someone to talk with about these feelings, your conversations won’t result in change at the office unless you demand it. Speak with someone in Human Resources; it’s likely they will take these claims the most seriously. They never want anyone to feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the workplace, and this includes in their own mind. Address them in a respectable manner, and don’t rely on I feel, or I think statements. Instead of saying “I’m feeling anxious and stressed because…” say “This project,” “This workload,” or even “This employee is causing people stress and anxiety…” Tell them upfront and directly if you don’t think your superiors value the mental health of their employees.

Come prepared to answer follow-up questions, one of the most common being “How do you think we can improve?” Suggest some ideas offices implement to relieve stress and improve their work-life balances. These include mediation breaks, taking walks around the office complex and taking “mental health days” without feeling as if you’ll be reprimanded for an invalid reason for taking a day off. After all, how much more personal could a personal day get than taking care of yourself? Not all of these have to be enforced at the office, nor signed off by the boss, in order for you to implement these practices on your own. You could even send out friendly emails or create posters around the office with your de-stressing and tips to share them with your co-workers, allowing you all to take a breath in, let the stress out, and welcome happiness in.

As you feel that your office is taking improvements to value the mental health of its employees, it’s important to keep an eye on how you’re feeling. If these worries and feelings of stress and sadness begin to occur in your everyday life again, you may need to seek further help from a trusted professional. Find a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist that can help you break free from these feelings. And always remember, whether you’re in the office or if you’re out facing the world, you are worth it.

Just as Nik told me, “Wealth leaves a void, and it’s because this happiness component is neglected.” Don’t neglect your happiness. Do not let these feelings control your life, as if this state is destined for you. You’re destined for and deserve great things in your career and your personal life. But more than that, you deserve to be happy.

About the Author

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SUZANNE SKEES serves as founder/board chair of the Skees Family Foundation, which supports innovative self-help programs in the United States and developing countries in education and job creation.

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