The Hidden Impact of Mental Illness in the Workplace

By: Shruti Rajan, Outreach Coordinator

I wish I had known that depression isn’t a sign of weakness and that mental illness is a real thing. Mental illness does not make you crazy. I am not ‘less than’ because of my condition.
— James

I got the chance to read James’s story this past week at the WEA Trust product launch and showcase. In reality, James was not one single person but rather a composite of many of the consumers that NAMI Dane County advocates for every single day.

WEA Trust put together an event that engaged its attendees and allowed us to experience the stigma, the struggles, and the personal battles that real people face in Wisconsin in regards to mental illness. Their event took me through an interactive exhibit that highlighted the prevalence of mental illnesses and its hidden impacts in the workplace. In order to individualize the experience and make their message more impactful, they handed out booklets containing characters and a story of their journey with mental illness. This is what gave me a chance to learn more about James.

I read about how James felt the pressure to be ‘on’ at all times at his job. Many times his coworkers and his employers would draw conclusions and attribute every mistake to his condition. Because of this stigma, he was uncomfortable talking about his mental illness to others.

In fact, James delaying seeking treatment due to the unsupported nature of his workplace is not uncommon. In Wisconsin, 1 in 4 employers felt like depression was a sign of personal weakness and did not want to hire or work with a person with depression. Conversely, leaving the choice of seeking treatment up to chance can seriously hinder productivity and increase the number of workdays lost due to untreated symptoms.

To address the gap between the prevalence of mental health conditions and its serious impacts in the workplace, WEA Trust used their exhibit to showcase and bolster their new partnership with Amwell, an urgent care and online therapy interface. This partnership hopes to knock down barriers to receiving mental health care and encourages public employees, who are more susceptible to developing symptoms of depression due to their “frequent or difficult interactions with the public,” to seek out help.

Amwell is quickly becoming the platform for change. Addressing the very real issue of consumers having to wait more than 5 weeks for an initial therapy appointment, telehealth care is an appropriate leap forward for the realm of therapy. It mixes the benefits of technological advances with James’s incredibly busy life. He could, at the touch of a button, schedule his next therapy session with licensed therapists and have one booked within a week.

NAMI Dane County looks forward to continuing to partner with WEA Trust so that together we can provide mental health tools and skills for addressing mental health care in the workplace.

Right now, our staff is developing a skills-building curriculum that is capable of supplementing the advances that WEA Trust's partnership with Amwell will see. We hope to launch this program in 2018 in hopes of fostering a workplace culture that is smart and informed about mental illnesses.

Check out a few photos from the event below!

Lindsay Wallace