My name is Matt, and I’ve struggled with depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and the artist formerly known as Adult ADD (now known as ADHD-PI).
(Pssst….this is where you’re all supposed to say, “Hi, Matt” in unison.)
For a long time before I started speaking publicly about it, that was a dark, little secret that I kept locked away, with only a few friends and family knowing. There’s a stigma attached to mental health issues like this, of course. That stigma makes it incredibly difficult for those suffering from mental health disorders to “come out” with them. This stigma, and the resulting damage, will likely be unpacked further in later posts.
However, I think there are salient points to discuss in regards to mental health, leadership, and culture. I even brought numbers with me, because, as you know, businesses do love numbers. ROI. ROA. REO (Speedwagon).
The bottom line, though, is this: Mental health must matter. To businesses. To us as individuals. To everyone.
Mental Health Must Matter Because of How Many People it Affects
Let’s start by having you take a quick look around. If you’re at a workplace with cubicles, I encourage you to have some fun with this. Be the creepy person who slowly rises up out of your chair and peeks over the cubicle wall at the person on the other side. Then, slowly descend back down in your chair without saying a word. (And try not to laugh as your teammate keeps asking you what that was about.)
Now, count five people. Why, you ask, should you count five people? Well, my friends, nearly one in five adults in the United States will suffer from a mental disorder this year. That’s right. One in five. That puts it at over 43 million people.
43 million people.
Mental health MUST matter b/c it affects 43 million Americans a year. #mentalhealth #leadershipTweet
Mental Health Must Matter Because of How Many Lives it Takes
Ready for another number?
That’s the soul-wrenching number of suicides that took place in the United States in 2015. Try to wrap your head around that number. To help put it in perspective, that’s more than twice the number of homicides.
That makes suicide the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States. However, suicide is the 2nd-leading cause of death in three different age categories spanning the ages of 10-34.
Suicide is the 2nd-leading cause of death in those 10-34. #mentalhealth #leadershipTweet
(I’ll give you a moment to chew on that, because that’s a tough one to swallow, at least for me. It’s the second leading cause of death in those ages 10-14, the second leading cause of death in those 15-24, and the second leading cause of death in those 25-34. Breaks my heart to think about all those pre-teens and teenagers suffering in silence.)
That also tells us that on average, there are now 121 suicides a day.
121 people. Today.
If there were a shooting today (God forbid) wherein 121 lost their lives, there’d be an uproar, and rightly so. But we’re losing an average of 121 people a day to a mental health issue, and I fear that many are more comfortable not addressing this massive elephant in our country’s living room.
Mental health MUST matter because 121 die from suicide on an average day. #mentalhealth #leadershipTweet
Mental Health Must Matter Because Those With Mental Illness Aren’t Getting Help
Research also tells us that approximately 60% of adults who had a mental health condition didn’t get help. Why not? Well, that aforementioned stigma plays a large role in that.
Additionally, according to the CDC, 75% of folks with mental illness feel like others (family, friends, colleagues, bosses) are not caring or sympathetic to their condition. Are you seeing our opportunity yet? (This is part of why humanness, both inside and outside the workplace, is such a huge deal.)
Mental Health Must Matter Because it Affects our Communities and Economy
We even see a massive economic impact. Research shows us this as well. In fact, the estimated amount of lost earnings — just here in the U.S. — was over $193 billion annually. Yes, that’s Billion with a “B.” If you want the global cost of mental health issues, it’s now over $2.5 trillion. With a “T.” So even for those among us who have little to no compassion for humans and couldn’t care any less about mental health stuff, there’s even motivation for you to be more involved in this fight.
Mental Health Must Matter Because We Have a Moral Responsibility
Now here’s the kicker. Our responsibility from an organizational and leadership angle is huge, and it’s two-fold.
First, we have a responsibility — and I’d argue it’s a moral one — to provide leadership and workplaces that are conducive to mental health.
This is where healthy culture comes into play, and this is why leadership is such a big, big deal.
Leadership is the single, biggest driver of mental health (for better or worse) within the workplace. Research shows us that it is the factor that has the largest impact on some people’s mental health. (It’s also the biggest reason the majority of people leave their jobs, as you know.)
We know this anecdotally as well, don’t we? We all know the impact a bad boss can have. Even in my own story, the worst boss I’ve ever encountered waged war on my mental health. Emotional abuse. Psychological abuse. Deception. Manipulation.
I was stunned the further I dug into this within the context of the research I was doing on psychopath CEOs. Not only is there a strong correlation between poor leadership behaviors and mental health issues in employees, but research also shows us causation. In other words, bad managers and executives can and do cause mental health issues in your employees.
Now don’t miss this. That’s actually happening. Right now. Today. In our organizations.
It’d be wise of us to start paying more attention to this. Now again, I think we have a moral obligation to be good to people. But even if you don’t buy into that, get this: Courts have begun (and by “begun,” I mean starting back in the 60s, believe it or not) holding companies liable for allowing (and therefore enabling) toxic and mentally/emotionally abusive managers and executives to remain in positions where they’re doing very real harm to people and their mental health.
Mental health MUST matter b/c it’s a moral responsibility we have. #leadership #mentalhealthTweet
Second — and here’s where we see a huge opportunity to do real good within our communities and society at large — why aren’t more organizations throwing more of their weight behind this issue?
There are few problems facing our communities that are more human than this. So what if more organizations were a force for good related to this cause in the same way they strive to be a force for good in regards to other societal issues (ie., poverty, hunger, homelessness, cancer, and so on)? Mental health issues are so pervasive, and they clearly tear at the very fabric of our communities. Isn’t that exactly the sort of thing that should spur individuals and organizations to action?
Some of you may be tempted to say I’m overstating my case. Some of you may be tempted to say I’m making too big a deal of this. Some of you may be tempted to say that I’m taking it way too seriously.
I say we’re not taking this anywhere close to seriously enough.
A version of this post ran on CUInsight.