Depression is an invisible but common mental health problem in the U.S. One in five Americans are affected by mental health issues, and depression tops the list as a condition many Americans experience.
Mental illness, and depression in particular, has hit the Black population in the U.S. hard. In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black men and women, ages 15–24, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
Black girls, grades 9–12, were 70% more likely to attempt suicide in 2017, as compared to white females of the same age. To make matters worse, Black Americans also report the lowest levels of mental health treatment and access.
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Generational poverty, income inequality and racism also take their tolls. Research has found that experiencing racist macro and microaggressions can result in anxiety and worry, hyper-vigilance, headaches, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and other physical and psychological symptoms, including depression.
Leaders of companies that valued both diversity and mental health have a chance to have a positive impact on those working around them.
“Black women deal with many unique societal factors that could affect mental health. As a Black woman who deals with anxiety and depression, I often feel “weak” due to my emotional fragility, Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez said in a healthline piece she authored. “But as I grow more in my understanding of mental health, I’ve realized my struggle doesn’t negate my strength. “And, more importantly, that I don’t always have to be strong. Expressing vulnerability takes strength. I accept this today, but it’s been a long journey to get here.”
There are companies that are stepping up in order to improve how mental illness is addressed in the workplace.
Johnson & Johnson (DI Hall of Fame) is one of those. Johnson & Johnson collaborated with both the American Heart Association and dozens of CEOs across the U.S. to create the “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis” report. The report has seven strategies created by experts to both foster a healthy work environment and support employees who may be struggling with a mental illness, such as depression.
Kaiser Permanente’s (DI Hall of Fame) chairman and CEO, Bernard J. Tyson made ending the stigma around mental illness an active part of his position before his death. Tyson passed away in November 2019.
He wrote an article, “Redefining Mental Health for a 21st Century World,” which explained the importance of speaking more openly about mental illness.
“Improving mental health care is not only an industry issue, it has become a critical societal issue,” he said. “Our nation’s ability to address mental health in a holistic, comprehensive way may just determine how successful we ultimately are in our quest to improve the health of America and the world … We must tackle and remove the stigma associated with seeking mental health care.”
Luckily, there are ways companies can support their employees who are struggling with depression. Here are a few to consider.
- Understand and be able to spot the signs of depression.
- Speak with the employee honestly but privately about what they’re experiencing.
- Encourage a flexible schedule and work with them to create a workday routine that supports their productivity.
- Break up the employees’ large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks.
- Offer resources at the company such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
- Help remove the stigma around mental illness by encouraging employees and leaders to talk more openly about their struggles.