What if I told you that by 2030, mental illness pathologies will exceed an expenditure of 6 trillion USD a year in healthcare?
And yet, a staggering 60% of the population still goes undiagnosed. Where is the gap here?
It lies in a much-rooted inclination of the human psyche: shame. The shame that mentally ill individuals feel comes from the fear of the stigma that society has created. That stigma prevents mentally ill patients from seeking a diagnosis. They are seen as a weakness in our societies and this is not an appreciated feature in a startup’s hectic culture.
The fear arises when the mentally ill face discrimination, dismissive behaviour or punitive actions at work as a consequence of disclosing their illness. This fear is particularly real in startup environments. Here, employees deal with the stress of “making it”, unclear roles, working weekends or even two jobs. However, they are supposed to act strong and let things flow for the benefit of the company.
“It is the single biggest cause of disability in the Western world but many sufferers say the stigma attached to it is worse than the illness itself, according to researchers.” Jeremy Laurence, The IndependentClick To Tweet
In startups, the typically small teams mean that a single employee can make the difference for the success of an entire company. The pressure that derives from this can lead to ignoring (or not disclosing) a mental disorder, which will eventually hinder the so desperately sought success.
However, solutions exist and can be implemented with great outcomes for the mentally ill and their employers. Read on to find out which ones will fit you best.
Chances are, this article will awaken some awareness in you. Mental illness is still one of the greatest taboos in society, and even more in the startup community, where the motto “stay foolish, stay hungry” entails not stopping for breaks and working endlessly.
This is not to persuade you to work less or assure you won’t face any stress or anxiety after reading this article. Simply put, you should equip yourself and your team with the tools to prevent invisible illnesses from arising in the first place, or to deal with them once they’ve developed.
Do not dismiss the mental illness issue in a “will-deal-with-it-later” box, because that could harm your business. In fact, a study has found that employees affected by depression cost companies 44 billion USD a year, due to the decrease in attendance of employees.
From techniques you can start applying today, to companies using VR to tackle these issues, there are several ways to soothe or prevent the damages of mental illness. In fact, a study in England shows how preventive techniques can save businesses up to £8 billion a year.
Let’s see how.
First, we will dive into what made mental illness a problem of the 21st Century. Then, we’ll discuss what triggers it so that you can recognize the warning signs and tackle it in the best way possible. Finally, we’ll dive into preventive solutions, from employee screenings to startups using Ai to cure anxiety and depression.
A 21st Century Sickness?
Why has mental illness spread so much in the course of the 21st Century? Is it simply a rise in diagnosis, or is there a deeper meaning? Liah Greenfeld, psychologist and PhD researcher, suggests that mental illness arose with the building of our modern society. With security, democracy, and prosperity came the luxury of deciding our own destinies, picking among a myriad of possible identities.
A collective “religious and hierarchical consciousness” was then replaced with the individual’s freedom of creating their own identity and realizing its human value to the fullest. Suddenly, a huge responsibility was placed on our shoulders: that of deciding who we are.
As society progressed, one’s identity began to correspond to one own’s source of income or business. This parallel blended all the different facets of our lives together so that nowadays, we are what we do. Success at the workplace means success in personal life, and failure at the workplace means failure in personal life.
The pressure to perform and live up to expectations is huge. More so in the unstable and unpredictable environment of startups, where every day is a gamble. With the establishment of the Mental Illness Day on the 10th of October, it is undoubted that mental illness is a topic on people’s minds. Although it is still discussed superficially and people lack a real comprehension of the topic.
A brief explanation of its triggers and signs can help startups identify and tackle it successfully.
Studies have shown that mental illness can actually be triggered by an unhealthy work environment. Reflect on whether this might be the case for you and if it is, be ready to make the right changes. Healthy employees = healthy business.
1) Unclear tasks – A recurring problem in startup environments. An unclear delegation of responsibilities can lead to stress and confusion, making the employees feel helpless. Make sure you’re taking the time to give employees clear tasks. It may seem like a pain at the time, but the extra minutes you spend will benefit the employee tenfold.
2) Chaotic environments – Many startups are embracing the “new” concept of open offices in the hope that they will boost productivity. However, this is not always true. A study found how the lack of privacy in open offices, together with the overwhelming amount of distractions and noise increases stress and anxiety. So much so that people take 62% more sick leave when working in open offices compared to single or two-person offices. Plants, personal objects and order, in general, produce an enhanced sense of ownership that makes employees feel at ease.
4) Not being heard – Even though many think it’s the crushing workloads that lead employees to depression, a Danish study showed otherwise. The reason is instead to be found in poor management or being unfairly treated by a manager. Employees need feedback and positive enhancement to thrive in the workplace.
5) Exhausting working hours – A fast paced-environment of startups leaves no one behind. The tough competition, the “never enough” attitude and the multitasking roles can and do leave people behind. Give your employees a flexible schedule, for example starting later in the day or leaving early, or consider work from home days.
6) A toxic colleague – A boss can create a toxic environment, and so can employees. A person can be a wrong fit for a startup’s culture, or they are covering an unsatisfying position. Be ready to make the right decisions for the benefit of the company and let that person go if necessary.
The toxic elements you should remove from your workplace or working routine to prevent mental illness have been outlined. However, what if you’re too late, and some of your employees are already showing distress signs? Are you able to recognize and act on these signs?
Here’s a list of warning symptoms, taking inspiration from business2community, Diana Vissers (founder of Work to Wellness Rehabilitation) and Engaged HR. So keep your eyes open and look out for these telltale signs.
If you spot any of these in a colleague or employee, it is time to act. Do bear in mind that the presence of one of these symptoms does not make the person a bad or lazy worker. They just need time and the right cures to get on track again. Some may not be aware of the seeds of mental illness in them. Others may be minimizing the distress because of the fear of being stigmatized.
Every case is peculiar and needs to be handled accordingly. However, spotting these symptoms will not tell you where the subject is on the mental health scale. In some cases, you might need to seek external help. Intervention can take three different shapes depending on the situation where you’re standing.
Startups do not have the same tools to draw from as big corporations when handling mental disorders. Investing in employee screenings, CBTs or employee assistance programs is not as straightforward a solution as many experts seem to convey. This does not mean startups should abandon tackling mental disorders issues at the workplace altogether. There are three main options startups can look into when dealing with such challenges.
Coping techniques come into play when distress signs have long gone unnoticed and a diagnosis is long been due. Therefore, do not act on a simple thought or doubt, but do share opinions with colleagues before confronting the issue. Then, once you all agree on the problem at stake, try approaching the affected employee with empathy and supportive behaviour.'...you're not acting in a vacuum when you're faced with handling a situation that may be caused by mental illness. Before acting impulsive, consult with others and see if they notice the same behaviour.” Indigo Triplett, CEO Careers in TransitionsClick To Tweet
Remember: they might not be aware or ready to disclose their mental disorder (if they have one at all), choose your words wisely. Compassion, goodwill, kindness and openness are the keywords here.
Management should be informed about medical options (e.g. therapy, counselling etc.) available in the community and share these with the affected employees. Offer your help to follow up with the process and assure they get a fair sickness leave (often provided for free in medical plans in European countries) or the time off they need.
Once they’re ready to get back on track, make the process smooth by e.g. offering them to start part-time and adding up hours gradually.
Prevention techniques are the ones you should be implemented from day one if you care for your employees’ well-being and that of your business. Straightforward and low cost, a preventive behaviour will simply require some of your time, dedication and planning skills.
To cut the stress of hectic startup life, employees might need some time off to charge their batteries. It is important to separate sick (mental day) leave from holiday leave. In fact, it might feel odd to ask for holiday leave when there is no intention of doing anything other than relaxing at home and focusing on your own health.
Mental health days could increase trust levels with your employee and prevent long-term sick leave from happening. You might have heard the viral story of the response from Olark Live Chat’s CEO to his employee taking a two-day mental health break. Here’s what he responded:
If you haven’t heard about the benefits of microlearning, you’re missing out on a gold mine. Its short meeting sessions range from 10 to 20 minutes that wrap useful information in an efficient, on-the-move manner. Most important of all: they’re budget-friendly. Moreover, these kinds of learning sessions let employees pick up selected pieces of relevant information without being bombarded by the typical counterproductive, long-lasting weekly meetings.
Microlearning sessions on mental health can include stress management techniques, mindfulness strategies or confidence and trust building behaviours. On top of that, they have the potential of engaging the team in sharing doubts, fears and give space for suggested improvements.
Break the monotony of grey walls, headache-inducing fluorescent lights and endless Wednesday meetings by giving your office and startup culture a twist.
A fluffy friend – Consider, for example, introducing a pet to the office. Letting your employees take their own pet once a week in rotating turns will reduce their hormonal stress significantly. However, chances are that you, as a startup, are renting a building and might have to deal with annoyingly rigid rules. Try setting up a meeting with the landlord and pitch your reasons for him/her to close an eye on the matter.
Power walks – Allow a 15-30 minute walk outside after your meal, breathing the fresh air or feeling the sun on your face. A study conducted by the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports revealed how doing such light exercise right after lunch will reduce sleepiness and tension, improve blood circulation and increase enthusiasm. To make it more social and enjoyable, invite your colleagues and make a daily routine out of it.
Namaste your way through stress – Yoga is a stress-reducing activity, and it is a well-known fact. Increased energy, focus, morale and confidence boosts are some of the straightforward benefits of office yoga.“Yoga may not make people love their jobs, but it can give them tools for accepting their work and coping with stress.” - Jodi Mardesich, The Yoga Journal'Click To Tweet
Fret not, office yoga differs from the sweaty, ache-inducing acrobatic pictures that pass your mind when you imagine such a practice taking place. Office yoga will focus on counteracting that stiff computer position and gently stretch all your muscles (and you don’t need any experience to get started and enjoy the benefits).
However, practising yoga can be a challenge in startups, where lack of space and capital don’t actually play in your favour. There are ways around this. Lack of space shouldn’t be a boundary when you can e.g. stack up tables and chairs to make space in your meeting room or move the practice outdoor.
As per the economic side, be creative. Browse YouTube and check for yoga office tutorials, like the 15 min quick yoga classes by Fightmaster Yoga. Or maybe, who knows, a hidden yoga warrior might be hiding in your company, dying to take over some teaching?
Still a part of the prevention techniques, this section deserved a paragraph of its own, for the relevance it plays in this field. We’ll dive into what the most innovative tech startups have to offer on the front of mental health prevention.
Although not entirely low cost, investing as little as $80 per employee per year in mental health prevention will produce a high return in savings. As mental health becomes free of taboos, investment in tech solutions skyrockets. Read on and check our list of the most promising mental health tech startups you should invest your money.
An app using Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CCBT), allows you to measure your happiness score and improve it through gamification. US-based.
Location: New York, U.S.
A US-based therapy chatbot, this company uses AI and CBT to provide on the fly solutions to stressful situations.
Location: San Francisco, U.S.
This startup uses VR to create a safe virtual therapy room to connect patients and therapists. UK based.
Location: Cambridge, UK
A US-based, machine-learning therapy bot which encourages mindfulness, self-reflection and activity tracking. Free.
Location: New York, U.S.
Born in Iceland, this startup focuses on behavioral economics and artificial intelligence to provide a gamified prevention health behaviour service.
Location: Palo Alto, U.S.
A crowdsourcing, peer-to-peer model based European startup offering a prejudice-free online support community to discuss mental disorder issues.
An online Finnish startup, this company offers an eight-week online treatment program for people suffering from depression and burnout.
Location: San Francisco, U.S.
Based in Denmark, this innovative startup works with neurostimulation on a broader scale, spanning from depression treatments to focus on enhancing scopes.
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
This Swedish company revolutionizes the medical treatment process by substituting antibiotics in curing depression. Based on digital behavioural activation therapy, Flow Neuroscience employs a highly technological brain stimulating headset operable from home with a simple app.
Location: Malmo, Sweden
The company is US-based and offers an effective recognition, rewards and review program for every workplace. Bonusly platform allows companies to strengthen their culture, in a funny, easy way.
Location: Boulder, Colorado, U.S.
As of 2018, mental disorders are still considered a taboo and surrounded by an aura of stigma. For this mindset to change, it is of paramount importance that relevant actors start acknowledging this topic and embed it in their priority agenda. More than ever is this true for startups, the big corporations of tomorrow.
Bear in mind the key lessons from reading this article: