Mental Health Disorders At Work

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one of every five American adults experiences mental illness, the most common are anxiety disorders and major depression.

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Stephen Langer, director of Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center in Olympia Washington, explains that anxiety and depression are so prevalent that experts often refer to them ‘the common cold of mental disorders.’ What are these mental health issues exactly?

Again, according to NAMI, experts define anxiety disorders as a group of related conditions characterized by “persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.” Some common anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and various Phobias.

With approximately 42 million adults or 18.1 percent of the U.S. population experiencing an anxiety disorder, that covers a considerable portion of the American workforce. Dr. Langer gives a clear example of the prevalence of anxiety diagnoses: “If you have an anxiety disorder and you are in an elevator with 10 people, chances are high that there is at least one other person on that elevator who also has an anxiety diagnosis.”

Depressive disorder, also known as ‘major depression’ or simply ‘depression,’ is experienced by an estimated 16 million adults in the U.S. or 6.9 percent of the population. Depression often presents differently for different people, but can commonly affect a person’s sleep, appetite, concentration, energy and activity levels. Depression can also result in feeling hopeless or guilty, experiencing physical pain, and even having suicidal thoughts.

The good news is that anxiety disorders and depression are both very responsive to treatment. Professionals can treat both anxiety and depression with psychotherapy, medication, and complementary health approaches including relaxation techniques, meditation, and nutrition. Individuals suffering from depression also find some relief with exercise, brain stimulation therapies, and light therapy.

“With proper treatment, both anxiety disorders and major depression don’t have to affect how people work,” Dr. Langer explains. What this means for our workplaces, is that it is very likely that several of the people we work may have anxiety or depression, and we’ll never know that they do.

Dr. Langer advises employers that, “the important thing to remember is to hire people based on their capacity for doing good work, and not on the basis of their diagnosis.”

LEARN MORE: There are some relatively easy accommodations employers can make to help people with anxiety/depression be successful in the workplace.
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