Although improved awareness around mental health has made workplaces more attuned to supporting struggling employees, some workplaces are still making employees’ mental health worse. And not only is poor mental health detrimental to you on a personal level, but it can also affect your productivity, ability to make connections, and future career opportunities. So, here’s what you can do when your workplace is negatively affecting your mental health.
1. Know the ways that work can affect your mental health.
First, it’s important to identify the various ways a workplace or wrong career choice can adversely affect your mental health. Here some of the most common reasons.
Workplaces are complex collections of individuals all striving towards different goals, no matter how united teams might be. This can create a number of negative emotions within teams that lead to negative environments and personal struggles.
2. Pinpoint exactly what is making your mental health worse.
The initial step on your journey to a healthier relationship with work is to establish the root cause of your problems. How exactly does work affect your mental health and what is causing it? This isn’t necessarily an easy question to answer, but it’s an important one. By recognizing the cause of your problems, you can begin to plot a route to solve them.
You can go about this by keeping a journal of your feelings throughout the day, highlighting the tasks and interactions that cause feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness, or other negative emotions. Taking a moment in the day to reflect after tasks and interactions to see how they made you feel can help you consolidate your feelings and segment them into positive and negative ones that you can begin to tackle.
3. Change your perspective on your career.
After some self-reflection, you might find that you need to change how you view your career and your place within your workplace. If work affects your mental health, it’s worth readdressing your personal relationship with it. Start to think about what you want, and whether it’s you or the job that’s holding you back. Does the morning alarm put you into an immediate bout of anxiety? Do meetings with your supervisors make you worried about your future? Does collaborating with your team make you frustrated and prone to anger?
Pay, hours, workload—anything in a job can have a negative effect on your mental health and make you vulnerable. However, it might be that your perspective is driving you to an unhealthy end. If you were to take things a little less seriously, you might start to feel better and begin to plot a route out.
And if an attitude change doesn’t transform your life or feelings, a career change might. Consider if you’re in the wrong career and, if so, begin to take steps to make a change. Also, you might want to consider whether you’re a career-driven person or if you might be someone who finds solace in their hobbies. There’s more to life than work. Maybe you won’t find meaning in your work, but you will find it in hobbies and side gigs.
4. Consider consulting HR or your manager.
Hopefully, there are systems in place within your workplace that allow you to consult someone about how you’re feeling. If your workplace has a robust HR department, consider arranging a chat with someone in HR about your feelings and how work might be influencing them. HR is no replacement for therapy, but HR reps can be understanding and friendly faces with a lot of influence within your company. Sometimes a more formal face is easier to approach than a loved one.
If you see yourself staying in the company and want to continue your career path, consider asking whether or not your workplace could offer you time off for mental health days or the possibility of changing your role. Being overworked or in the wrong role are two major causes of poor mental health in the workplace, so it’s worth exploring your options if available.
It can be difficult to do this in rigid corporate environments or roles where companies haven’t invested in HR, but you shouldn’t let your dream role be ruined by bad colleagues or a work culture that’s directly affecting your mood and ability to develop.
5. Know the careers where mental health issues are common.
Workers in all industries are susceptible to mental health issues, but mental health struggles tend to be more common in certain industries. So, if you work in an industry where mental health issues are common, know that you're not alone and there are likely resources available to help. Or, if you're looking to switch careers, know about some of the mental health issues facing workers in those industries before you make the leap.
One such industry is the medical field. Whether it’s the trauma of seeing patients suffer, the stress of long hours with limited recovery time, or other reasons, many doctors, nurses, orderlies, and other health care professionals find themselves struggling with their own mental health. Fortunately, there have been efforts from within the sector to reach out to suffering professionals and offer some relief, particularly throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Education is another area where mental health issues often arise, as depression and anxiety aren’t just concerns for college students but also teachers and childcare workers. The education and childcare sectors have a surprisingly large number of people (early-age care workers in particular) suffering with mental health issues. Low wages, additional out-of-hours work, and low benefits have been identified as some of the root causes.
Mental health is also prevalent in military careers, as high rates of depression, anxiety, homelessness can attest to. While there have been efforts to highlight the struggles of veterans and ease them through conditions such as PTSD, many veterans still report a lack of support and significant long-term effects once they return home from their service. In fact, the difficulties that can come with acquiring VA benefits for injuries and mental health conditions have led some veterans to rely on organizations such as Vet Comp & Pen to get the funding they need to retain their livelihoods.
In addition, the service industry is known for its long and stressful hours, and for a workforce largely made up of younger people trying to balance their jobs with education and, in some cases, second jobs. This has led to an increase in drug use in the industry, leading to increased feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
A final note
If you’re struggling with any feelings of depression and anxiety, it’s extremely important to consult with someone, whether that’s someone in the medical field or a close friend or family member. Also, it’s important to both keep in mind that work is not your entire life, just a segment of it, and to constantly reassess your relationship with work so you can work toward solutions if you find that your mental health is suffering.
Robin Hoon is the Director of Medical Consulting at Vet Comp & Pen.
The concept of taking a “mental health day” is pretty widespread, and becoming more and more accepted, but most employees still just call out sick. Nicole Lapin, author of Becoming Super Woman, shares why you should talk about mental health at work.