Leaving A Job For Mental Health Is An Option, A New Survey Says

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Work stress can make navigating mental health issues much more complicated than they might be otherwise. If you manage a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, then you know your work environment can make a huge difference in how well you feel. But you don’t have to live with a diagnosis to feel the effects of mental health strain in the workplace. In fact, while up to one in five U.S. adults live with mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a new survey conducted by Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics shows that nearly half of all millennials have left a job in order to protect their mental health.

Mind Share Partners, a non-profit organization that works to improve access to mental health resources in the workplace, had study subjects answer questions online about their mental health at work. The study’s authors surveyed 1,500 people ages 16 and older who work at a company with a minimum of 11 employees, CNBC reports. The survey questions assessed how often respondents experienced mental health symptoms, such as an upset stomach, racing heartbeat, sweating, or dizziness, at work. The survey subjects were also asked how these symptoms affect their work performance, and whether they have access to adequate mental health support on the job. Since virtually everyone will either manage a mental health condition at some point in their lives, or knows someone with a mental health diagnosis, understanding how to better address mental health in the workplace is crucial, the study’s authors say in the report, which was published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR).

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Stigma continues to be a barrier when it comes to talking about mental health at work, Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics wrote in HBR. Even as up to 200 million workdays are missed due to mental health symptoms in the United States each year, mental health is still something that many people don’t feel safe talking about, especially at work. Further, mental health stigma disproportionately affects people of color, the report notes. Black and Latinx workers were 50% more likely to quit their jobs, CNBC says.

“Underrepresented groups come across additional challenges in the workplace by virtue of race or ethnicity,” Mind Share Partners Founder and CEO Kelly Greenwood told CNBC. “That certainly creates additional challenges on top of what it looks like to be in the majority in a company.”

Mental health stigma disproportionately affects people of color, the study’s authors say in the paper, and can bar access to treatment. Photo credit: Pressmaster_Shutterstock

Overall, while 60% of people have managed mental health symptoms in the past year, millennials and Generation Z workers were most likely to leave their jobs because of them, CNBC says. Half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers reported leaving a job for mental health-related reasons, both voluntarily and involuntarily, while only 10% of baby boomers reported doing the same. The reasons for this may be rooted in the fact that, in general, younger people might be more aware of mental health issues than older generations are, Greenwood told CNBC. As such, workplace taboos surrounding mental health may impact younger people more. “Mental health is something they’re used to talking about freely,” Greenwood said. “All the sudden they get into the workplace and they’re not supposed to talk about it.”

Regardless of these varying factors, mental health and work performance are intricately linked for pretty much everyone, Greenwood said. Creating access to mental health support in the workplace, including mental health resource groups and therapy, is so important for nurturing your colleagues' well-being at work. Providing mental health benefits that employees feel safe using, combined with open discussions about mental health that help break down stigma, can help workers get the help they need, when they need it.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

Study Referenced:

Greenwood, K., Bapat, V., & Maughn, M. (2019, October 7). Research: People What Their Employers To Talk About Mental Health. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/10/research-people-want-their-employers-to-talk-about-mental-health

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Nov. 22 to clarify whether respondents left work voluntarily or involuntarily.