Mental Illness Myths Prevent Employees from Seeking Help

Employers have difficulty getting a handle on managing mental illness disabilities in the workplace because of myths.

People who become depressed over the holidays usually do not seek help, even though depression is the leading cause of mental health disability.

"People feel more stress-induced depression during the holidays because of many factors like family conflicts and rising debt, but most will not seek help," said Alyson Smith Lebow, a Minnesota licensed psychologist.

She works with her clients to "depression-proof" themselves by taking advantage of employee assistance programs offered at work.

Smith Lebow is the disability manager for CIGNA Behavorial Care, the CIGNA subsidiary that works with CIGNA Group Insurance.

"During the holidays, people need help most but are least likely to get it. People choose to stay busy, and this becomes a vicious cycle. While keeping busy keeps most people from dwelling on their depression, it also makes them feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, making them more stressed out," Smith Lewbow explained.

Mental health disabilities cost the United States economy approximately $44 billion annually, including cost to businesses of $24 billion in lost productivity and lost work days.

Smith Lebow said that because of the myths that surround depression and other mental health disabilities, though, it is difficult for employers to get a handle on managing mental health disabilities in the workplace.

According to CIGNA, the following myths stand in the way of effective management of mental health disabilities.

  • Senior managers don't suffer from depression. Hardly true, although senior managers may be even more reluctant than others to disclose their illnesses.
  • Return-to-work is not in an employee's best interest. Just the opposite is true. Even for employees still receiving treatment, simple accommodations usually make it possible to return employees to full or partial productivity.
  • Many of those who return to work fail. Success is achieved more quickly and failure rates are reduced through graduated return-to-work, with temporary accommodations until full productivity is possible.
  • Acknowledging mental health disabilities will open a floodgate of claims by moody people. It is important to make a distinction between poor performance per se, and the precursors and indicators of depression, anxiety-related disorders and other mental health conditions.

Dispelling these myths paves the way for employees to seek the help they need and for employers to take a proactive approach to keeping employees with mental health disabilities on the job.

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