Before I get into this post, I want to clarify that my use of the word “crazy” is not meant to be offensive. This post was inspired by the book with this title that I recommend you read. It’s about mental illness in America told through the lens of a father who has two sons with schizophrenia. More on that below.
When I say “crazy,” what does that conjure in your imagination? Punctuated, violent thrashing? Sporadic noises. Deep stares that make you turn your head.
Stop. Quiet your imagination. In today’s world and at work, “crazy” looks a lot more like you.
One in four Americans are diagnosed with mental illness, a fact I was reminded of while reading Ron Powers, “No One Cares About Crazy People.” The book is one part soul, one part statistics to capture the heartbreak of mental illness in America. Page after page, I found myself thinking, how could we let someone live like this?
But here’s the reality: we allow it to happen every day.
Modern talent functions aren’t addressing the harsh reality of our life. We’re not talking about mental illness or mental health as part of our regular conversations.
In fact, when I tweeted about writing this post, I was overwhelmed by stories from HR. Observers who felt helpless as they watched mental illness take over an employee’s life. People who lived the trauma of losing their livelihood because someone noticed “something wasn’t quite right.” I heard from people with misdiagnosed brain tumors who haven’t found work in four years. An HR leader who watched a former soldier with PTSD lose his mental health at work. It was scary, to say the least.
It made my heart hurt for all of them.
The internet has turned crazy into a spectator sport where people can relentlessly mock the realities of so many others. It creates artificial, digital space where people can hide behind icons while pushing people to desperation.
Social media only contributes to the problem as one of the leading causes of teen depression. Studies link social media use to depression, anxiety, poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem, inattention, and hyperactivity.
There will only be more depressed, lonely, anxious people at work. We’re ignoring the reality of mental health, and the consequences are grave. Suicide rates have skyrocketed.
For those “business case” types, let’s cover that too. In 2015, suicide attempts cost the United States $6.9 billion. Some percent of that is on your bottom line if you don’t take care of your employee’s mental well being.
Addressing mental health isn’t only about a significant investment in a new benefits package or an overhaul of your culture. The next step many organizations neglect is about understanding what triggers mental health episodes, how to talk to your employees about it, and working from a place of empathy.
For example, for some people, things like a big city location or open workspace could be terrible for mental health. In fact, studies as far back as the 1800’s talk about why big cities are bad for mental health.
To show empathy we have to reconnect with our people’s reality. The reality is clear: they’re struggling. What will you do to help?