Dealing Compassionately with Employees with Mental Health Conditions

Every year natural disasters devastate communities, leaving thousands of families displaced and financially ruined. Couple that with the increase of technology pushing us to be faster, smarter, and do more things than are humanly possible–it brings no surprise that we are experiencing an increase in mental health concerns. Openly discussing mental health in the workplace will not only help employees feel supported and cared for but can also increase productivity and company loyalty.

Mind Share Partners states that $17 billion is lost annually in productivity in the U.S. because of unaddressed mental health concerns. Moreover, due to the stigma around mental health conditions, 69 percent of employees hide their mental health condition from coworkers.

Three Common Types of Mental Health Conditions

Willingness to learn about mental health conditions is the first step toward understanding what it is like to have one. I’m going to discuss three common mental health disorders and give three suggestions on how to create a supportive environment in the workplace.


Depression is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. It’s a serious mental health condition that requires understanding and attention. Episodes of depression can last from a few months to several years and can develop from a number of reasons, such as a life crisis, physical illness, relationship changes, financial standing, housing changes, seasons, and weather, just to name a few. Genetics, medical conditions, and some medications can also play a part in developing depression and medical syndromes (like hypothyroidism) can mimic a depressive disorder.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) states that an estimated 16 million American adults–almost 7 percent of the population–had at least one major depressive episode in the past year and approximately 30 percent of people with substance abuse problems also have depression.

Depression may manifest itself with different symptoms depending on the person. Physically it can show up as aches and pains, changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and energy levels. Mentally it can cause a lack of concentration, disinterest in activities, hopelessness, guilt, or suicidal thoughts.


Sitting in rush hour traffic or giving a speech can create anxiety, a normal reaction to life that helps us stay alert and aware of potential dangers. However, when feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and stop us from doing everyday activities, an anxiety disorder may be the cause.

The NAMI website claims that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. (18 percent) have an anxiety disorder. There are four types of anxiety disorders: 1) Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), 2) Panic Disorder, 3) Social Anxiety Disorder, and 4) Phobias.

Anxiety disorders can cause exaggerated worrying about everyday life that can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate and finish tasks. Emotional symptoms of anxiety can show up as feelings of dread, restlessness or irritability, being jumpy or being watchful for signs of danger. Physical symptoms of anxiety can result in a pounding or racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, tremors, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and upset stomach.

Adult ADHD

There is a lot of information about children with ADD or ADHD but what happens when those children grow into adults? The fidgeting and inability to sit still during class transforms into forgetfulness, disorganization, impulsivity, or feeling overwhelmed by adult responsibilities. An estimated 4 percent of adults have ADHD.

Physical symptoms of adult ADHD can be hyperactivity, irritability, and risk-taking behaviors. Mentally, ADHD can cause forgetfulness, lack of concentration, racing thoughts, or a short attention span that creates mood swings of boredom, excitement, or anxiety.

Three Suggestions

What can be done to help manage employees with with mental health conditions? Now that you know more about depression, anxiety, and adult ADHD, consider how many people you know who have suffered from one, two, or even three of those conditions? I am not asking you this question so you can judge them, I ask it to bring awareness to how common it is to have a mental health condition and how it’s time to dismantle the stigma of it being something people shouldn’t talk about.

If employees learn to talk about mental health at work, perhaps they will feel more comfortable finding treatment for their disorders. Here are three suggestions of how you can make your workplace into a supportive environment for mental health.

Create Relaxing and Restorative Spaces

Decorating a room with comfortable chairs and dimmed lighting where employees can go for their ten-minute rest break doesn’t cost a lot of money and can be a supportive expression to your employees. Asking employees to bring rocks to work to collectively build a walking labyrinth on the property will create a way for people to walk off anxiety and can also be a great team-building activity.

Foster a Supportive Environment

Ask your HR department to design trainings for employees to learn about the different types of mental health conditions and encourage discussion. Employees learning about mental health at work may help them support a coworker, family member, or person in their community who suffers from a condition.

Adopt a Mental Wellness Program

Research shows that physical exercise reduces stress and anxiety and can improve mental health. Offering gym reimbursements, monthly challenges, a mental health information board with changing topics, tips and recipes or on-site yoga or exercise classes can encourage employees to find better options to care for their physical and mental well-being.


Mind Share Partners statistics show that one in five Americans suffers annually from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and ADHD, and that eight in ten employees don’t seek treatment because of fear and shame. Encouraging people to learn and talk about mental health will not only help create a more productive workplace but will also benefit employees outside the office.

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