October 10th is World Mental Health Day. Originally celebrated in 1992 as an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, its objectives included raising awareness of mental health issues throughout the world; encouraging individuals to educate themselves about mental health; and searching for ways to provide greater supports. With this in mind, we wanted to draw attention to the prevalence of mental health conditions, common misconceptions, and steps employers can take to foster a supportive and inclusive work environment.
According to a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) survey, approximately 43.8 million adults experience some form of mental health condition in a given year. That’s 18.5 percent or nearly 1 in 5 of all adults in the U.S. It’s a common misconception that mental health impairments affect a small number of individuals. These statistics show that mental health conditions as a whole are actually relatively common.
Given these statistics and the number of individuals employed or seeking employment with mental health impairments, employers may want to consider steps they can take to raise awareness in the workplace. With October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month, it’s a good time to consider providing disability awareness training where topics relevant to mental health can be discussed. By bringing attention to the fact that mental health conditions are common, and only one part of a person’s identity, employers may help reduce the still pervasive stigma around mental illness, and make employees feel more comfortable and supported in the workplace.
In terms of disability etiquette, it’s important to know how to talk about mental health in a way that is respectful rather than offensive. For example, the terms “mental defective,” “afflicted,” “victim of,” and “sufferer of” are generally antiquated and offensive. The terms “mental health impairment” and “psychiatric impairment” are generally accepted, and individuals may have a personal preference as to what terms they prefer. Also, it’s generally better to use person first language – focusing on the person first, not the disability. For example, “an employee with bipolar disorder,” as opposed to “a bipolar employee.” When speaking with an employee that has disclosed a mental health impairment, it may be helpful to listen for the words they use to describe themselves, and to ask whether they have a preference about what terms you use.
JAN also offers a wide variety of resources to support the successful employment of individuals with mental health impairments.
If you have a specific situation or question you’d like to discuss with a JAN consultant, we encourage you to contact us directly or visit AskJAN.org.
Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-49, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4887. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.