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Hidden mental health barriers put your business at risk. If you don’t know there is a problem, what you don’t know can hurt you. Alternatively, you (or your employees) might recognize the symptoms and seek medical help, only to stumble in search of an unreachable diagnosis.
Solving mental health puzzles can be tricky. Some parts don’t fit neatly into the compartmentalized model of Western medicine. Humans are generally wired to organize complex ideas into standardized boxes. It gives us a sense of control, security and order. It perpetuates the belief that mental health issues are limited to the diagnosable…a mistake that can cost you productivity, profit, and more.
Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness
This awareness can help us make changes that increase productivity and profits, that’s for sure. But more importantly, these changes increase the enjoyment of our lives.
The following three issues are hidden from the scope of mental health because they are currently not diagnosable. This means that they are not recognized by the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition).
One of the major issues this poses for businesses and employees is that mental health services often require a DSM-5 recognized diagnosis in order to receive insurance payment.
Fortunately, no diagnosis is needed to support mental health habits and drive change.
1. Social Media Addiction
One of the reasons it might not yet be diagnosed is because the most recent version of the DSM-5 was released in 2013. Much has changed both in the online space and in our understanding of the human behavior ever since.
According to behavioral addiction specialist Hailey Shafir, LCMHCS, LPCS, LCAS, CCS, “Behavioral addictions research has found evidence of internet, gaming, and social media addictions. What we do know is that these activities all trigger the release of dopamine, a powerful brain chemical that causes the “high” most people feel when taking an addictive drug. Over time, repeated use can create “addiction pathways” in the brain that make it much harder for a person to control, cut down, or stop using. »
In other words, social media and addictive substances similarly trigger our brain’s reward systems.
Shafir adds, “These platforms are actually designed to be addictive in nature. Recent research has proven that getting likes and comments on social media causes the release of dopamine, which is further proof of its addictive appeal.
The behavior of many people on social networks could fall into the category of “addiction” (compulsive or obsessive use). However, the word addiction is loaded with negative connotations. This can put people on the defensive, causing them to justify or hide their actions.
The average employee spends 12% of their working hours using unproductive social media apps, according to job search website Zippia. More than half of companies surveyed have a social media policy in place, but 30% of their employees admit to using social media at work as a way to take a break from a stressful day at work. (In comparison, 40% of employees who work in organizations without these types of policies use social media during the workday.)
I’m no math or finance expert, but it’s easy to get a general idea of lost productivity and profit from these statistics. Consider an employee working 40 hours per week and earning $30 per hour. Twelve percent of their working hours equals 4.8 non-productive hours per week. This employee’s non-work-related social media use is costing you almost $7,500 a year in lost productivity hours (not to mention the resulting lost revenue).
Read more: Here’s how social media engagement can impact your work culture
2. Drinking in the gray zone
At least two of the 11 criteria listed in the DSM-5 must be met for a diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder.” One of these criteria is Drinking that often interferes with caring for your home or family, or causes problems at work or school.
There were many points in my own 30-year drinking journey where only this one applied. Even though I was “undiagnosable”, my work suffered. I have never lost a job or clients because of this. I was present and never drank before or during work. It was the mental fog and exhaustion from drinking the night before that clouded my performance.
Looking back on those times in my life through a more informed lens, it’s not too surprising. Alcohol consumption disrupts our sleep patterns, causing feelings of anger, sadness, mental exhaustion and stress. Alcohol also increases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. These side effects occur even with occasional use. Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption can aggravate or trigger other mental health issues, including depression and anxiety.
It is difficult to quantify the exact loss of profit caused by alcohol consumption, but it is a known problem. Addiction costs businesses $442 billion a year in healthcare costs, lost productivity and absenteeism, according to the nonprofit organization Shatterproof. This figure, however, does not specifically include losses fueled by undiagnosed alcohol users.
This particular mental health barrier is a paradox. It is masked by an incessant normalization of alcohol consumption and stigmatization of users. Alcohol is revered as a tonic to quell frustrations and celebrate life’s events. We joke about secretly sipping wine from our coffee mugs to survive Zoom fatigue. Yet the stigma persists, rooted in the false belief that there are only two camps: diagnosable “alcoholics” in one and “normal drinkers” in the other.
What is rarely understood is that the line between these is wide and blurred.
Read more: 3 Popular Nighttime Calming Habits That Secretly Sabotage Productivity
Instead of jumping into the popular blame game conversation, let’s get one thing clear. Burnout can come from a variety of circumstances, including work environment, neurotype, and the two previous issues listed above. However, perhaps the most recognized and relevant is burnout. A report from Mental Health America, “Mind the Workplace”, states that “most employees show early signs of burnout”, with nearly 83% of respondents agreeing with the statement, “I feel burnt out emotionally by my work”.
Whether burnout is the result of work or is rooted elsewhere, two facts remain.
First, you and your employees are your greatest business assets. Exhausted leaders and/or employees are a direct hit to both productivity and profit.
Second, it’s another undiagnosable mental health barrier. harvard business review claims that the psychological and physical problems of burnt-out employees cost between $125 billion and $190 billion a year in healthcare costs in the United States alone.
Diagnosability is a big part of the equation. People cannot get effective medical treatment for an undiagnosable problem. Burnout shares many symptoms with depression, but does not tick all the boxes required for this diagnosis. You or your employees can jump from one supplier to another, in search of answers. The downsides of this include maximum health benefits for the company, loss of work productivity, and more missed work due to unresolved medical appointments and/or symptoms.
Read more: Are you burnt out? Here’s how to fix it
Cultivate mental well-being at work
What if we could avoid these threats to productivity and profit by attacking behaviors before they escalate into debilitating diseases? This is possible through communication, collaboration and compassion for self and others.
Develop a corporate culture that promotes stress relief and general mental well-being. You can schedule breaks from the workday for group meditation or yoga sessions led by local or online providers. Team building meetings or events could include activities that support mental health (physical activity, being outdoors, aromatherapy, volunteering). Even five-minute breaks for a fake nap can trigger dramatic energy shifts at work.
These counter-intuitive activities have been proven to improve mental agility, focus, innovation, and happiness – the cornerstones of workplace productivity.
Rigidly defined diagnoses are not prerequisites for change
Solving any mental health problem, diagnosable or not, requires a multi-faceted approach.
The most important thing is not to use workplace wellness techniques as a band-aid to cover up deeper issues. Instead, focus on emotionally intelligent leadership. When leaders and employees openly discuss mental health barriers without judgment — and receive support to manage them — productivity, profits, and people all thrive.