Alexander: Legitimize Mental Health Issues At Work


Jack Gambassi

Holly Pound cooks chicken at Pulp Lifestyle Kitchen on May 22, 2021 in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By CJ Alexander, Special Projects Managing Editor


The American economy I know is built on the efforts and labor of the individual worker. Cashiers at grocery stores, restaurant cooks, bank tellers, firefighters and all other occupations work to drive the economy forward. Without their hard work, society would come to an abrupt halt and fall apart.

As unsung heroes of society, workers’ health and well-being should be prioritized if we want our daily routines to continue normally. That includes caring for and offering help to workers with mental health problems. People often write off mental health as “imaginary” and “all in one’s head.” But when nearly one in five Americans struggle with mental health problems, we need to take this issue seriously — especially in the workplace where we often neglect mental health.

In the United States and many other countries, a stigma surrounds mental health. It’s considered a taboo topic, and people are often looked down upon when they express their mental health struggles. Even with increased awareness on the issue, mental health still remains a health crisis that requires a momentous effort to fix.

In the workplace, mental illness tends to be neglected more often than not. Employers often lack knowledge about mental health issues and fail to address them properly, which reinforces shameful attitudes. For instance, an employee who suffers from a panic attack doesn’t garner the same sympathy as an employee who experiences nausea. The way employers handle stress, people, emotions and work lives all depend on learning more about mental illness.

This failure to adequately assess and treat mental health problems as actual health problems originates from the beliefs of the 1950s and ’60s. Back then, if you had a mental illness, people thought there was something wrong with you as a person. You were negatively labeled, ridiculed, outcasted and in some cases, fired from work. The blatant criminalization of mental health struggles back then shaped today’s views of mental health in the workplace and in society.

But these outdated beliefs and customs shouldn’t hold us back from expanding awareness, treatment and help to individuals experiencing mental health issues. Today’s rates of mental illness are through the roof compared to those of the ‘50s. As this issue gains more attention, we must continue to find solutions towards prioritizing mental health in the workplace.

Luckily, Utah is in the process of creating initiatives and services to combat this health crisis. With 30.1% of Utah adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder in 2021, efforts to acknowledge and treat mental health problems continue to increase. The state offers numerous resources, including those for counseling, intervention and support services, help lines and coalitions to help Utahns treat their mental health problems. And Utah companies are following suit, with a few workplaces utilizing the nonprofit Room Here to spark a discussion about mental health in the workplace.

With all these changes, we should be more apt to confront negative attitudes, destigmatize mental health and treat mental health problems head on. In the workplace, employers should also address mental health with as much seriousness as physical ailments and disabilities. This could look like a supervisor sending home a person who’s experiencing an anxiety attack or a post-traumatic stress disorder episode. Or if an employee feels depressed or exhibits signs of an eating disorder, the employer and even the community someone works in can help that person find treatment and focus on their mental wellbeing. This shift in mindset can get people the help they need to thrive in the workplace. And as a society, we can destigmatize and start conversations about the importance of mental health in our daily lives.

For employees to do their best, they need to feel at their best. Treatments, access to programs, and other resources should be readily available in the workplace. In Utah and in the United States, efforts to destigmatize mental health should always be encouraged because our nation can’t thrive without all aspects of health gaining equal attention. As an employee of a Utah company, I want to know that my workplace has my back if I ever experience mental health problems. And every employee in the nation should feel safe and have confidence in their workplace’s ability to care for mental health when the time comes.


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