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Breaking the Stigma: How Mental Health Impacts You At Work

Updated: Apr 10

Breaking the Stigma:  How Mental Health Impacts The Workplace

According to a study conducted by the health and wellness publisher HealthCanal, untreated mental illness doesn’t just negatively impact job performance and success, it also costs the United States $3.7 trillion a year.

Mental health in the workplace is incredibly important for several reasons. We spend a significant amount of time at work, and our work environment and experiences can have a significant impact on our mental health and well-being. As a former Human Resources Manager and corporate employee, I have not only witnessed firsthand a person's mental health play out negatively in the world place, but I have also experienced it myself.

Mental Health can play out in a wide variety of ways in the workplace. In today’s blog, I’m going to talk about mental health stigma and how your mental health in the workplace impacts the following areas: Productivity, Burnout, Interpersonal Relationships, and Career Advancement.

Mental Health Stigma

When it comes to transparent mental health conversations in the workplace, I’ve sat on both sides of the desk. I intimately understand the complexities of being open and transparent about your mental health with your employer.

Mental Health stigma is one of the most dangerous and prevalent forms of ableism in the United States. The Center for Disability Rights defines ableism as, “A set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other.”

Mental health ableism is so incredibly common that even those of us with mental illness often inflict ableist beliefs and ideas on ourselves. Having transparent conversations like this one about the real impacts of mental health is the most powerful way to eradicate mental health stigma.

Now that that's out in the open, let's talk about how your mental health impacts your workplace


Unlocking Your Productivity Potential

Mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and stress can make it difficult to concentrate. When your mind is racing through all the what-if scenarios or continually broadcasting your perceived list of failures in your mind or if you are trying to anticipate everyone’s needs it can become overwhelming to then have to focus on a time-sensitive task or project.

In most cases, missing a deadline is not the end of the world but when missed deadlines become the norm, this can convey to your employer that you either don’t have the skill level required to do the work or that you don’t care. Either way, this will lead to poor performance evaluations and missed opportunities for promotions or worse, the loss of your job.

All the while, you may be just experiencing a temporary mental health episode that could dramatically be improved with a short-term accommodation such as an extended deadline, an adjusted work schedule, or being able to work from home. Also, just being able to verbalize that we are struggling can offer an incredible release of pressure. When how you feel is no longer a secret, you can stop devoting so much energy to masking and hiding.

Understanding Burnout

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress, particularly related to work. It can result from feeling overworked, overwhelmed, or lacking control over one's job responsibilities. Burnout can be characterized by feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a sense of reduced accomplishment or effectiveness.

Here are some common signs of burnout:

  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion

  • Lack of motivation or interest in work

  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing

  • Reduced productivity or effectiveness

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, or muscle tension

  • Increased irritability or frustration

  • Withdrawal from social activities or relationships

Burnout can have significant negative impacts on your job performance and career, including decreased productivity, poor job satisfaction, and a reduced sense of accomplishment. It can also lead to physical and mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and an increased risk of chronic illness.

As an employee, it's important to recognize the signs of burnout and take proactive steps to address it, such as seeking support from a mental health professional, taking breaks or time off when needed, and setting realistic goals and boundaries in the workplace.

Trust me when I share that it takes way more time to heal from burnout than you think. Once you hit burnout, you cannot just rest and self-care your way out of burnout. Recovery not only includes healing your body and nervous system but also involves healing the patterns that brought you to burnout in the first place. If you don't address the behaviors that led you to burnout you will end up right back there again and again. Burnout is one of the main reasons I left my corporate career and eight years later there are still aspects of my physical and mental health that have yet to heal.

Strong Interpersonal Relationships are Crucial

Strong interpersonal relationships are the key to any company's success. How we communicate with colleagues, supervisors, and clients impacts how we show up to do and how we execute our tasks/duties. When we are dealing with untreated mental illness, communication can become difficult and overwhelming, so often we remain silent. When we can’t effectively communicate what is going on within us, it begins to impact all the communication we are a part of. This can manifest in conflicts and undue tension in the workplace.

Over the years I have realized that most people want to help you if you are struggling, but no one can read your mind. So if you aren’t open with your colleagues about what you are experiencing they may just see you not fully participating in team meetings or a decrease in your quality of work. In other words, they may assume you are just not doing your job. This can lead to resentment and ultimately avoidance.

It's important to seek help as soon as you notice your mental health shift so you don't neglect your work relationships. If you notice your colleague is checking out and you have the space to offer support, try asking your co-worker how they are feeling. You might be surprised to learn all they are dealing with on top of workplace stress.

The Hidden Barriers Of Career Advancement

Mental health issues can significantly impact career advancement opportunities in several ways. Career advancement typically happens when you are ready to take on more, whether that be tasks and responsibilities or more work hours and change.

Everything I’ve discussed up to this point is a major factor that influences career advancement. Productivity dramatically influences your ability to meet performance expectations. Additionally, even if you are high functioning, mental health issues can decrease motivation and make it challenging for you to put in the effort required to excel in your role. This lack of motivation can result in a lack of enthusiasm for taking on new responsibilities or opportunities that could lead to career advancement.

Additionally, people with mental health issues may experience reduced opportunities for professional development due to a lack of support or understanding from their employers. For example, someone with anxiety may struggle with public speaking, but their employer may not provide training or accommodations to help them overcome this challenge.

The best example I can give you of mental health negatively impacting career advancement is to share part of my story. I was in my dream job for three months before the physical symptoms of a raging ulcer, severely disrupted sleep, and decreased mental capacity set in. My body was literally falling apart from stress, even though I practiced yoga every day. It wasn’t enough to prevent burnout. I ultimately had to leave this position that I worked so hard to get in order to heal my mind, body, and soul. Eventually, I even walked away from my career knowing that I couldn’t prevent some of the things that led me to burnout because of how corporate Human Resources is generally structured.

There are systemic issues of corporate culture that will make it more difficult to navigate the workplace with a mental illness but there are things you can do to help your career advancement. It is challenging to accept your mental health reality but when you can do that you can then begin to set realistic goals for yourself and your career. You may dream of being in the C-Suite, which is absolutely realistic, but if you aren’t able to take all the actions to support yourself to sustain the job then you are just setting yourself up for failure. You can always seek out mentorship and career development opportunities that can help you align areas of your life to support yourself to sustain your career.

Overcoming the Obstacles

The impact of mental health in the workplace is far-reaching and significant. The stigma associated with mental health issues can lead to employees feeling ashamed or fearful of disclosing their conditions to employers and colleagues. However, untreated mental health concerns can lead to decreased productivity, burnout, strained interpersonal relationships, and a lack of career advancement opportunities. Employers must create a supportive environment that fosters open and honest communication about mental health issues. Employees must also take proactive steps to seek help and support when they need it. By addressing mental health concerns in the workplace, we can promote a healthier, happier, and more productive workforce, which will impact EVERYTHING in this world.

If you're struggling with your mental health, know that you're not alone. As a mental health and career coach, I understand the challenges that come with taking care of your mental well-being while pursuing your goals. If you're looking for support, I'm here to help. Whether you need guidance on managing stress and anxiety, building healthy habits, or navigating your career path, I offer personalized coaching sessions to help you achieve your goals. To get started, click here to schedule your free 30-minute coaching session to help you take the first step towards a healthier, happier you.


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I'm Dani

I blend the transformative power of therapeutic yoga and career coaching to guide your toward holistic well-being and professional fulfillment. 

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