World Mental Health Day: Why A Healthy Workplace Is a Right, Not a Privilege
How many people are receiving work calls after hours, receiving their work email on their personal phones, and waking up in the morning first checking their work email before even speaking to their family?
October 10th is observed as World Mental Health Day annually, and this year, in 2023, the theme carries a powerful message: Mental health is a universal human right.
Just as we fight for our rights to freedom, work, education, physical health, and more, everyone has a right to the highest attainable standard of mental health as well. When we refer to the highest attainable standard of mental health, we are essentially describing the ideal state of mental well-being that individuals can strive for. This includes the right to be in a safe and supportive environment free from mental health risks, accessible quality care and mental health education, social inclusion and non-discrimination, and personal autonomy in mental health decision-making.
However, 4 out of 10, meaning 40% of workers, are experiencing work-related stress, which is almost half the population. At the same time, stress and anxiety are responsible for 30% of work absences.
Stress, anxiety, and depression can surface from any job based on the surroundings, level of support, and resources offered. Job insecurity, a lack of work-life balance, a toxic work environment, and overworking are some of the most prevalent factors leading to depression in those employed in a team or organization.
According to research, employees fear being stigmatized or subjected to retaliation if they talk to their managers about the stress at work. As a result, they either fail to take the time off they need or provide another reason for requesting absences.
KSLA News 12 consulted with Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Abigail Johnson, CEO of Johnson Behavioral Health Group, about how work can negatively impact employees’ mental health and overall well-being.
Anxiety, stress, and depression can be seen in the workplace to the extent that these illnesses are considered part of the working sector. People have come to accept that these mental health concerns are common and customary in the job sectors, rather than recognizing them as violations of fundamental human rights.
Nevertheless, what does anxiety look like if someone’s mental well-being is impacted by their job?
Abigail Johnson said, “One of the common ways to identify [anxiety] is if an employee is beginning to miss deadlines. This difficulty might be caused by difficulty focusing and concentrating, irritability, difficulty getting along with coworkers and customers, frequent absenteeism, or even tardiness—just seeing the difference in behaviors. Stress can also affect the immune system, which can cause us to become sick frequently. Getting illnesses like cold and flu that might become tense and on edge. And just simple tasks can seem overwhelming to them.”
The norms force us to believe, accept, and tolerate this important topic. It appears normal that many of us fail to realize that these mental health issues come from familiar and repetitive causes that produce threatening chronic effects more than we thought. We begin to settle for less when it comes to our psychological well-being by accepting that these episodes are only part of the usual working routine and overlooking the underlying risks in store for us.
“Migraine is one of the most common symptoms that happen. Migraine headaches, where we have a lot of muscle tension in our neck, back, and shoulders, can be related to stress,” explained Dr. Johnson. Chronic stress may also contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system, particularly in the coronary arteries. This pathway is thought to tie stress to a heart attack. It also appears that how a person responds to stress can affect cortisol and cholesterol levels.
Stress may be caused by too much work or too many responsibilities, lack of control over one’s job, constant deadlines, or not enough time for oneself outside of work. If you are feeling stressed or anxious at your job, there are things that you can do to relieve some pressure:
Take time for yourself outside of work.
Build boundaries between your work and personal life.
Talk with your boss about what is bothering you.
Focus on your work goals.
Set a specific time of day that you will focus on yourself and things unrelated to work.
Focus on something positive at work; look at the bright side of your current job.
Keep a gratitude journal.
Do meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness activities to learn new coping methods.
Establish boundaries with coworkers.
If you cannot change your position or responsibilities according to your capacity, it is essential to maintain control over what you can change and stand up for your mental health rights. Understand that you have a life outside work and avoid being defined by it. You are defined as who you are as a person. It is your right to prioritize your mental well-being.
“As a society and systemic approach, I believe that we need to protect our employees and provide safe and private mental health care and resources. But if extra assistance is needed, reach out to primary care and ask for a referral. And if they don’t have or if you don’t have access to primary care, there’s a national provider hotline, 1-800-662-HELP, that will connect you with 24-hour resources to help you find resources in your area.” — Dr. Abigail Johnson