National Mental Health Awareness Month

 In 2023

Last week we focused on strokes for National Stroke Awareness month. This week’s topic is mental health in honor of National Mental Health Awareness month, which is also in May. The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) was quoted in an article that appeared in Forbes last week that 1 out of 3 Americans say that their jobs affect their mental health. 29 percent say their jobs make them anxious (click here to read the article).

The same article provides this quote: “It’s clear that as a society, we’ve become more anxious in recent years, and for good reason,” said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, founder, CEO and chairman of ComPsych, in a statement. “From the pandemic to ongoing conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, civil unrest, an unpredictable economy and increasingly polarized political rhetoric surrounding elections, there is a persistent underlying feeling of apprehension and worry.”

So, anxiety is commonplace. What is anxiety? How would you recognize it in yourself or your coworkers?

The American Psychological Association tells us that anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. Anxiety is not the same as fear, but they are often used interchangeably. Anxiety is considered a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.

Anxiety produces worry or the apprehensive expectation of some bad outcome. And there are physical symptoms, like restlessness and edginess, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, and difficulty concentrating. Anxiety can also disrupt digestion, speed your heart rate, and possibly even cause ringing in your ears. More women than men experience anxiety, by a factor of two to one.

From an article produced by Psychology Today, entitled “How to Help Someone With Anxiety,” (linked here) there are some things you can do to help a coworker with their anxiety, or even to help yourself. Following are a few, brief suggestions:

1. Help them to overcome their embarrassment. They may feel that they are “out of control,” or “going crazy.” Let them know you don’t see their symptoms the same way. Let them know that some of what they are feeling is normal, not incompetent. If you know they are getting help from a mental health care professional, tell them that you think they are brave, which may destigmatize getting therapy. If they are not seeking professional help, gently guide them towards a reliable therapist.

2. Talk to them about their needs. Every person facing anxiety is a little different, and each will have different ways of coping. Find out what your coworker needs from you to get through a tough situation or an anxiety attack. They may need someone to help them with deep breathing, guide them through a focusing exercise, or create a space where they can tackle a project they were avoiding because of their anxiousness.

3. Learn all you can about anxiety and mental health. Learn to recognize it in others, and even how to recognize it in yourself. Know that mental illness is just an illness in the mind, just like any other illness in one part of the body.

Your weekly challenge is to talk openly and honestly with your coworkers about mental health. What does mental health mean to you? And, if a coworker opens up about their own mental health journey, give them a safe space to express themselves, and let them know you appreciate their willingness to share.

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