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Work can be a stressful, frustrating place, especially when you have mental health challenges that make getting through the workday a struggle.
Tens of millions of US adults are affected by mental health issues every year, including issues that can get in the way of work. Your mental health can affect every aspect of your work, from your level of focus at the office to your emotional state and relationships with coworkers.
If you have a psychological health issue that you think is starting to affect your work, the good news is that you’re not alone. Millions of other people deal with the same issues as you every day, and with the right techniques, many are able to balance work and mental well-being.
Below, we’ve covered what mental health is, as well as how common mental health disorders can affect your job performance, well-being and satisfaction in the workplace.
We’ve also discussed how you can cope with mental health issues at work, from speaking to a mental health professional about treatment options to using relaxation techniques and effective self-care to improve your mental and physical health.
Finally, we’ve explained what you can do if you feel like it’s time to talk to your employer about your mental health needs.
Mental health is a common term that’s used to refer to your psychological, emotional and social health. Good mental health has a positive impact on your ability to function, while mental health issues can have a negative impact on your job, relationships and everyday life.
Mental health issues are common. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, tens of millions of people are affected by clinically significant mental illnesses every year in the United States alone.
If you have a mental or emotional health issue, you may find that it interferes with your work in certain ways, or makes some aspects of your job more challenging to deal with.
Common mental health conditions include:
Bipolar disorder and other mood disorders
Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Our list of signs of declining mental health shares common warning signs that you may notice if you have a mental health issue.
Mental health issues can have a serious impact on your ability to function at work. If you have a mental disorder that isn’t actively treated, it could affect your ability to get things done at work or your relationships with your coworkers and/or boss.
In some cases, experiencing mental health issues at work can increase your levels of stress -- a factor that might make your existing mental health problems worse.
First, if you have a mental or behavioral health issue, it’s important that you get treatment from a licensed mental health provider.
Almost all mental health disorders can be treated with the right approach. By taking your mental health seriously and talking to an expert, you can learn about your options for gaining control of your symptoms and improving your mental well-being, including at work.
Depending on your specific mental and/or behavioral health challenges and needs, your mental health provider may recommend taking part in therapy, using medication, or making changes to your habits and lifestyle to promote healthy behaviors.
If you think you might have a mental health problem, you can get help by talking to your primary care provider about a mental health referral.
You can also talk to a mental health provider from home and, if appropriate, access medication for depression or anxiety using our online psychiatry service.
Reaching out for help can feel hard, but it’s often an essential step in getting your mental health under control. Over the long term, treating your mental health issues can make every aspect of your life, including your work, easier for you to cope with successfully.
It’s far from uncommon to feel stressed when you’re on the job, even if you have an otherwise healthy workplace. Whether it’s major crunch time or just an unusually busy week, you’ll likely go through periods in your work life in which you feel stressed and unable to properly cope.
Just like with other aspects of your mental health, being equipped with the right techniques can make dealing with workplace stress a much easier process.
Sometimes, dealing with stress involves changing your habits. For example, exercising, getting plenty of sleep and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet are all associated with improvements in people’s ability to deal with stress.
Other behaviors, such as taking deep breaths to slow your heart rate or practicing mindfulness, can also help you to cope with stress when it develops.
If you have long-term stress that doesn’t feel as if it’s getting better, talking with a therapy provider can also help. We offer therapy online as part of our full range of mental health services, letting you access help whenever you feel like you need it.
Feeling stressed due to work and need help now? Our guide to handling stress lists techniques that you can use to deal with stress in a healthy way, from meditation to healthy eating.
Work can be difficult enough when it lasts from nine to five, but it can quickly become a severe source of stress when it extends beyond regular hours and follows you home.
If your workplace doesn’t require you to respond to calls or emails after hours, try setting up an invisible mental barrier that separates your work life and your home life. This means “switching off” once work ends and moving your mind into a different, more relaxed state.
As part of switching off after work, you might choose to focus on your daily routine, your friends, or your family instead of worrying about work-related tasks or objectives.
Over time, you may find that you actually get more done by creating a barrier between working hours and relaxation hours. Instead of returning to work in a stressed state, you can clear your mind at home and return to work feeling more energized and focused.
One of the most important things you can do to cope with mental health issues is to take great care of yourself.
When you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed, it can be easy to let your own needs slide as you focus on keeping up with work. Instead of helping you to cope, this can have the opposite effect and may make your symptoms worse.
Rather than neglecting your needs, it’s important to practice self-care and make your emotional and physical well-being a priority.
Good self-care can be as simple as setting time aside for the things you enjoy, getting your daily dose of sunlight and fresh air, or keeping a journal whenever you feel like your mental well-being isn’t quite at its best.
Our list of self-care tips for women shares more than 20 techniques that you can use to care for yourself and improve your mental and physical health.
Over the last several years, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted work, many employers have made the switch to an either partial or full work from home system.
If you work from home on a regular basis, establishing a routine and creating a healthy working space in your home can do wonders for your mental well-being and quality of life.
Drawing a clear line between “work” and your home life. Simple daily tasks, such as preparing lunch or doing the dishes, can often get in the way of completing work-related tasks and maintaining good employee performance.
Instead of mixing work and home life, draw a clear line between the two by setting up a workspace in your house or apartment, maintaining a regular schedule and avoiding the temptation to mix up your day with a combination of work and housework.
Setting boundaries with other people. If you share your living space with your partner, children or other family members, it’s important to set clear boundaries so that they don’t disturb you (or you them) during work hours.
Before you get started with your work, make sure that any other people in your home are aware of your schedule and boundaries during work time.
Sometimes, no amount of self-care and stress management techniques can give you full control over your mental well-being at work.
If you feel as if your mental health is beginning to interfere with your ability to work effectively, or if you’re worried that your workplace or company culture is starting to have a negative impact on your mental well-being, it’s important not to keep these concerns to yourself.
Instead, you may want to consider talking to your boss or company HR department about what you’re experiencing, as well as the impact it’s having on your ability to work effectively.
Talking to your employer about mental health can be a sensitive process, especially when your workplace is contributing to your mental health issues. Use the following tips and techniques to make having this sensitive conversation easier:
Understand your employer’s mental health policies. Many medium-sized and large companies and organizations understand the importance of promoting good employee mental health, and have clear policies regarding mental health concerns.
If you have a mental health issue that you’d like to bring up with your employer, a good first step is to understand your organization's policies, including mental health benefits you may be able to access as an employee.
Talk to the right person. Most of the time, you’ll want to either talk to your employer’s human resources (HR) department or your boss about your mental health, especially if you’re experiencing mental health issues that are affecting your work.
Make sure to talk to the right person. If your boss is responsible for your mental health concerns, or if their conduct is making them worse, it’s far better to reach out to the HR department instead.
Consider seeking help with others. If your mental health issues are caused or made worse by an abusive or unpleasant coworker or boss, consider talking to HR with other members of your team.
Coming forward as a group can make it clearer to your employer that your concerns are serious and that changes are needed.
Explain how your mental health affects your job performance. If you’re burned out, stressed or anxious at work, try to focus your discussion on how these issues can affect your performance as an employee.
Your employer wants you to be productive, effective and happy at work, and explaining with a focus on organizational or company performance can often make it easier to put your mental health concerns in the right context.
If your employer offers help, don’t be afraid to use it. Many employers offer support to employees with mental health issues, including useful services such as mental health counseling.
If your company or organization has a policy for covering mental health treatments, you may benefit from making use of the services that are available to you.
Our guide to seeking help for mental health goes into more detail about the steps you can take if you feel like your mental well-being is affecting your ability to work.
Taking care of your mental health is vital for staying focused, productive and emotionally stable at work. At the same time, a healthy workplace can offer real benefits for your mental well-being and ability to function effectively.
If you feel like your mental health symptoms are affecting you at work, try using the techniques above to cope successfully and gain more control over how you feel.
Alternatively, if you think that your workplace is making a mental or behavioral health condition worse, consider talking to your boss or HR department about your options.
Tens of millions of American adults deal with mental health issues on a regular basis. If you’re one of them, you’re definitely not alone.
You can get help for your mental well-being by talking to your primary care provider, or with our online mental health services.
You can also find out more about your options for treating mental health issues with our mental health resources and content, which are available free online.
By taking action, you can improve your mental well-being, control your symptoms and feel better not just at work, but in almost every area of your life.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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