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May is the month to tackle issues relating to mental wellness in the workplace

Columnist Kristen Asleson says dealing with stress is an import job for employers looking to boost productivity as well as employee happiness.

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Many people face the reality of living with a mental illness. May is the month of educating those around us and upping the awareness about mental health. To say there is a stigma surround mental health is an understatement. After all, mental health is an important part of overall health.

If you are an employer, offering mental health and well-being services can provide a significant return on your investment. Work stress alone is reducing employees’ productivity and engagement at work. According to a recent study by Silver Cloud Health, 69% of the study's participants used one to five sick days when feeling stressed, and 22% used six to 10 sick days. On average, 32% of employees are taking extra sick days to deal with feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed.

When it comes to workplaces offering mental health services or having a wellness program, the results are alarming as well. Of the respondents in this study, 35% feel they are not receiving the mental healthcare they need, and one-third do not have access to mental health benefits through their employer. Sadly, 9% are concerned about stigmas related to getting mental health services.

How can you company help their employees with a mental illness?

  • Create an Employee Assistance Program that includes mental health.
  • Strive to create and maintain a culture that is positive, understanding and welcoming.
  • Allow employees to take a mental health day, and call it that.
  • Provide better access to mental health care.

One of the most common results of at work stressors is anxiety. Anxiety can be caused by workplaces that are stressful, not welcoming, fast-paced or toxic – there could be many reasons.
A close friend shared how it feels to work with anxiety: “It is like you are constantly stuck in a cycle trying to be productive and stay on task while balancing all these intrusive thoughts and worries when you look at the clock and you have lost four hours with not much to show for it. It is, literally, ‘Work, work, worry, random thought, work, remind myself to focus, worry, random thought, work.’”

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When you feel good at work, you approach your job with adaptability, flexibility and resilience. Challenges are met head-on and accepted, and you feel your contributions are meaningful. Not so when you are struggling with poor mental health. Even if it isn’t extreme, duties are negatively impacted.

As an employee, managing your well-being at work also means taking part in what your employer has to offer. For instance:

  • Take part in employer-offered programs and activities.
  • Share your story with others, do not hide your struggles.
  • Learn coping skills to utilize during the workday.
  • Practice self-care.
  • Pay attention to your physical health.

As a person who often had panic attacks while at work, learning coping skills was a must. Feeling a panic attack come on was often an indicator to head outside to walk and breathe. Our receptionist knew when I just needed a few minutes away to regroup, and usually it did not take very long. Learning coping skills to head off anxiety or panic attacks is a much-needed skill to develop.

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Having a healthy bunch of employees benefits everyone. Receiving mental health care can help increase productivity, decrease absenteeism, and have an overall impact on medical costs in general.

On the flip side, as an employee, not hiding mental health issues is key. There is no better way than to fight a stigma than to stand up to it. Do not feel ashamed that you suffer from a mental health issue. It cannot be helped, and there is no cure for it to magically disappear. But, taking care of yourself is a must.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to news@postbulletin.com .

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