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Workplace Diversity and Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s a good time be aware of and more inclusive of 20% of your workforce and customers.

That’s right, 20%! About 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition. That’s over 40 million Americans, or more than the populations of 20 US states combined!

The High Cost of Poor Mental Health – the cost for business is huge. A study of 10 major companies revealed depression is the #1 most expensive employee health condition. The total economic burden of depression is more than $210 billion per year.

18% of Employees – In a recent survey, nearly 18% of US workers said they had “experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder in the previous month.” The most common disorders are depression, stress and anxiety, and substance abuse.

The solution? Incorporate mental illness into your organization’s diversity definition. Here’s why:

Mental Health as Diversity  – The definition of diversity is: “the state or fact of being diverse, difference, unlikeness.” People differ in race, religion, heritage, sexual orientation and more. They also differ in health: everyone’s health is different.

Include the 20% – Another definition of diversity is “the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.” It certainly makes good business sense to be inclusive of 20% of the population.

Awareness, Respect and Inclusion – The goal of a diversity initiative is awareness, respect and inclusion, in that order. Be aware of differences. Respectful differences. And be inclusive. Get tips on how in this upcoming new video series on workplace mental health.

Welcome and Destigmatize – Inclusion means welcoming all people, from all ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, age, religion, etc. It also means welcoming people with disabilities – including mental and cognitive. Together we can work towards improving the lives of those affected, and ending the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness and disorders.

Watch Your Language – For corporate mental health awareness, one starting point is to avoid hurtful language. I’ve suffered from mental illness, and it’s quite hurtful when people use my diagnosis as an adjective. Avoid phrases such as “he’s totally ADHD,” “she was acting so bipolar,” or “that’s schizo.”

Shout Out – Another option is to give shout outs to famous leaders with mental health or learning disorders. From US presidents to Fortune 500 CEOs, from movie stars to famous musicians, plenty of famous people have suffered from mood or cognitive illness.

Wellness Benefits – What’s the benefit of including corporate mental health programs in your training? If a business runs a factory, it makes good sense to keep its machinery in good order. People are even more important than machines, so it makes good business sense to keep your human resources running at peak performance.

Wellness ROI – Workplaces that make the effort and investment in corporate mental wellness, to ensure their employees are healthy – mind, body and spirit – reap tremendous ROI. Some 80 percent of employees treated for mental health problems report improvements in productivity and jobs satisfaction, according to the Center for Workplace Mental Health. And it’s just a lot more productive and enjoyable to have happy, focused employees.

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