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Handling Mental Health In The Workplace And The Stigma Around It

Speaker 1: 00:00 There's an interesting dispute taking place between San Diego county and the county's former chief medical officer, Dr. Nick Yvonne TDS, known to many, simply as Dr. Nick. He was a prominent county spokesman during the early days of the COVID 19 pandemic, here's even TDS, Speaker 2: 00:18 But I must be transparent and admit that eventually the stress became overwhelming for me. I couldn't run from it. I began suffering from depression and overwhelming anxiety. I lost my ability to sleep. And so in that situation, I did what I believe any of us would tell our loved ones to do, to take a brief leave of absence. Speaker 1: 00:41 After he took a medical leave of absence, even TDS claims, he was not allowed to resume his position with the county. Now in a lawsuit filed against the county. The doctor's attorney claims even TDS was quote, thrown away because of his mental health disability. The county has not commented on the pending litigation. We are often told that there's a stigma surrounding mental health problems that prevents many people from seeking treatment, but can that affect employment? What protections are in place for workers and what can workplaces do to help those experiencing mental health challenges? Joining me is Katherine Matteis she's founder and CEO of civility partners. That's an HR consulting firm focusing on helping organizations create respectful and positive workplace cultures. And Katherine, welcome to the program. Speaker 3: 01:34 Thanks for having me Speaker 1: 01:36 Since the pandemic, how would you say stress has shown up in the workplace? Speaker 3: 01:41 Well, we've all been through a, a rough time, no doubt. And between figuring out the new way of work, figuring out a new way to parent figuring out our relationships at home when we're stuck there with our loved ones there, this has just been change after change, after change and change causes stress. And then you've got, you know, you're the pressures of work. Everybody needs to make sure that they can keep their paycheck and survive. So I suspect that many of us have been holding back on our stress or letting it come through in order to just put our heads down and get through this. Um, so I think this, uh, pandemic and the stress that's created is not over once the pandemic is over. I think we'll still see stress as a big issue. Speaker 1: 02:29 What procedures are generally in place for workers suffering from depression or stress? Speaker 3: 02:35 Well, the law provides avenues for employees to take time off, to take care of their mental health and take care of their stress. Um, worker's comp provides that opportunity. Um, FMLA provides that opportunity. So there is, you know, the opportunity for employees to do what they need to do and take care of themselves. Okay. Speaker 1: 02:56 Would you say that there's still a stigma attached for workers who tell their employers that they have mental health issues? Speaker 3: 03:02 100%? Absolutely. I think a silver lining here is that we've chipped away at that stigma a little bit with people being more willing to admit how they're feeling, but absolutely there is a stigma Speaker 1: 03:16 Now without addressing the lawsuit that's been filed against the county. Do you know of instances where people's employment has been threatened because of leaves of absence or treatment for mental health issues? Speaker 3: 03:28 Absolutely. It's not that uncommon. Um, employers are focused on the bottom line. Something I see a lot in my work is that, you know, the business owner or CEO is focused on the bottom line and, and sometimes, or a lot of times it's at the cost of employee mental health. And you hear employees are leaving because of burnout. And the employer sort of ignores that fact and continues to push people hard, continues to hold them accountable to high levels of work, quality and quantity. So from a business standpoint, you know, you're gonna drive your employees to get whatever you can from them. But from a ethical and moral standpoint, you gotta give your employees time to recover and function so that they can produce for you while they're there at work. Speaker 1: 04:17 So from what you're saying, it sounds like a lot of organizations are not equipped to handle a stressed out workforce. Speaker 3: 04:24 I would say that's correct. Yeah, because what do you do if you have a team of 30 people, for example, and five of them are feeling the pressure and need time off as a business owner or a CEO that's hard to manage. So what I think employers miss is they often push employees hard and then they need to take time off because of that. Versus if an employer can support mental health regularly and on a consistent basis, you won't have people leaving, you know, abruptly because they've all of a sudden burned out and need some time off. Speaker 1: 05:00 If an employee can no longer handle his or her fair share of the workload because of mental health issues, it must be a difficult decision for the employer about what Speaker 3: 05:11 That's right. Absolutely it is because you've got to balance your employees needs. And you know, you care about your employees, but you've also got a business to run and paychecks to pay. Um, so it is a difficult place to be. And there isn't a black and white answer it's case by case, you know, what's going on? What is that? Person's responsibility. Are there other people who can take on some of those responsibilities? So there's a lot of factors involved in figuring out what to do. Speaker 1: 05:39 How can the culture of a workplace become more accepting of people who are struggling with emotional and psychological problems? Speaker 3: 05:47 That's a loaded question because organizational culture is much about nuances as opposed to policies. So for example, if you're a managers are working crazy hours, sending emails at four in the morning, working on weekends, working over PTO, and you're an employee at the receiving end of those emails, while the manager may be saying, I don't expect you to respond at four. That's just when I'm working, there's a message that comes with that though, that you have to work hard in order to survive here. So that's an example of a nuanced culture change that needs to happen where organizational leaders need to make it very clear to managers that they need to, you know, exemplify mental health and wellness, and that they're working at reasonable hours instead of working 80 hours a week. Um, so I think manager training is one big key to culture change here. Also, managers can be more vulnerable for their employees, you know, self-disclosure begets self-disclosure. So if a manager were to say things like, gosh, I'm feeling stressed out, how are all of you doing? Um, you know, that'll open the door for those types of conversations, but you know, culture has to come from the top. The leader has to make it very clear that they're interested in the mental health of their employees, and they're willing to work with employees in order to, you know, let them be healthy. Speaker 1: 07:15 I've been speaking with Catherine Matteis she's founder and CEO of civility partners. Catherine, thank you very much. Thank you. If you have an emergency or just want to talk about what help is available, you can call the San Diego county mental health access and crisis line at 8 8 8 7 2 4 72 40.

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Handling mental health in the workplace, and the stigma that comes with it.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments