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How to cope with depression and anxiety in the workplace

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

Nearly one in three adults (32%) say they are more anxious than they were last year, according to a recent report by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Only a quarter (24%) report being less anxious than last year — these are similar to changes in anxiety reported over the last two years.

“The poll results reinforce the fact that basic needs, such as personal safety or finances, have a large impact on a person’s mental well-being,” says APA President Altha Stewart, M.D. “We urge anyone who is struggling with anxiety, regardless of the reason, to seek treatment.”

But getting to the root cause of distress can be more difficult to diagnose when it’s not a physical problem -- emotional and mental health issues are oftentimes left undetected and untreated for too long. Approximately 40 million American adults – about 18% of the population – struggle with anxiety, and nearly 7% of the population has reported at least one depressive episode in a given year, as reported by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Feeling ashamed often goes hand in hand with any mental or emotional struggle, particularly in a professional setting. The pressure to work and perform at 100% can be paralyzing during a depressive phase, coupled with the fear of losing employment.

“In an ideal world, you should be able to disclose a mental health issue without being discriminated against, but the reality is we don’t live in that perfect world,” says Darcy Gruttardo, director at the Center of Workplace Mental Health.

About half of workers in the APA survey expressed concerns about discussing mental health issues at work; a third worried about consequences if they seek help. For those thinking about talking about it at work, Gruttardo recommends talking to your primary care doctor first to get any symptoms under control, before approaching human resources or an employee assistance program (EAP).

Is the organization ill?

Workers should also recognize that the organization they work for could be dysfunctional: “The more disturbing the workplace, the more vulnerabilities and personal foibles will emerge,” says Dr. Lynn Friedman, a clinical psychologist and executive career counselor based in Washington, D.C.

Just like physical ailments, mental health can worsen from working long hours, lack of sleep, stress, overwhelming workloads, and toxic work environments.“One way to support people to be healthy is to look at areas of dysfunction in the workplace and address them in a direct and straightforward way,” says Friedman.

“Managers have a big role to play in raising awareness, getting rid of the stigma, and treating this like any other issue,” says Gruttardo. While more companies today are creating holistic wellness programs to cultivate a culture of openness, less than a third of those who struggle with mental health get the treatment they need. Costs for care can be prohibitive as health insurance plans are less comprehensive particularly when it comes to mental and behavioral issues.

Most people polled by the APA said they would help guide a troubled co-worker to mental health resources. Three out of four workers said they would recognize signs of anxiety or depression. But one in four workers say they would not know where to guide their co-worker for mental health help.

“These results show both encouraging and concerning aspects of mental health in the workplace,” says Stewart. “The extent to which people are willing to reach out and help colleagues is encouraging. However, the continued hesitancy among many to talk about mental health concerns in the workplace is troubling and illustrates the ongoing stigma against mental illness. We have work to do to get to the point where people are as comfortable talking about mental health concerns as they are about physical health concerns.”

Jeanie Ahn is a senior reporter and producer at Yahoo Finance, covering personal finance and women in business. Follow her on Twitter @jeanie531.

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