What People With Mental Illness Want You to Know

Mental Illness Awareness Week is October 4 – 10. This week was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress to draw attention to the work of a variety of private and public organizations who educate people and create awareness of mental illness. This year’s theme is “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” I’d like to piggyback on that theme to tell you what I as a mental health professional want you to know.

We Should Talk About Mental Health

First, I want you to know this is a topic that we need to normalize by talking about it. By talking about it as many different conditions – not one singular illness. By recognizing that some illnesses are biologically based. By understanding that in various ways they can affect our thinking, feelings, mood, and behavior. In general, talking about it much as we do in discussing physical health conditions. By doing, do we help confront the social stigma and stereotypes? Stigma and stereotyping delay those with illness and their families from seeking help.

Mental Health Disorders Are Not Uncommon

Second, I want you to know how prevalent mental health disorders are in the U.S., even before the coronavirus pandemic with its enormous emotional toll. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report confirmed the growing evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession are having an unprecedented negative impact on Americans’ mental health, with unpredictable consequences. The KFF tracking poll found that 53% of adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health status had worsened due to worry and stress associated with the ongoing pandemic and economic damage. For many years prior to 2020, studies have shown that about one in five Americans experiences a mental health condition of some type, and one in 25 U.S. adults experience a serious mental illness each year. Many more family members are affected as well.

You may have heard these facts, but you might not be aware that mental illness is an issue for children and young people. One in six children aged 17 and under experience a mental health disorder each year. Fully 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14. Yet many school systems are poorly resourced and equipped to provide early screening and referral for children and teens.

Causes of Mental Illnesses

Third, I also want you to know this about the causes of mental illnesses. Just like physical illnesses, there are multiple causes of mental disorders and they affect all classes, all groups, all zip codes, all red states, and all blue states. A person’s genetics, their early living environment, family circumstances, their social conditions like poverty or discrimination, and many other factors play a role in development of a mental illness. A stressful job, or an unloving family life may also create risk. Experiencing traumatic events like child abuse or neglect, intimate partner abuse, trauma in war, daily microaggressions related to gender, race or ethnicity, or brain injuries also put people at risk. But in short, no one, no family, no society is immune.

Treatment for Behavioral Health Disorders

Finally, I’d like you to know some uplifting news. Treatment for behavioral health disorders has never been more effective than it is today. New pharmaceuticals and evidence-based talk therapies are making their impact. Social stigma around the issue is diminishing, especially among younger people. Access channels like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are common and Student Assistance Programs (SAP) are gaining traction. Both are prevention, education and early case finding and advocacy resources. Speaking of EAPs and SAPs, October is a good time to visit with your programs. Understand what they are doing to provide an easily accessible channel to help those in need to get started on a path to treatment. And while you are at it, ask about what they can do to help you educate and build resiliency in the other 80% who will not experience a mental health condition this year, but who are experiencing all the unusual stressors that have come with 2020.

One last thought. A great way for you personally or for your work organization to get involved in advocacy for people with mental illness and their families is to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.


National Alliance for Mental Illness

The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Kaiser Family Foundation
Nirmita Panchal, et al

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

The importance of mental health in the workplace

A few months ago, Patti Murin, the actress playing Anna in the Broadway show, Frozen, tweeted that she needed to take some time off for mental health reasons.

In her tweet, Murin stated, “I’ve learned that these situations aren’t something to deal with or push through. Anxiety and depression are real diseases that affect many of us. It requires rest and self care to handle every time it becomes more than I can handle in my daily life.”

Mental health conditions are more prevalent than you’d think

Murin was right when she said that mental health issues affect many of us. The fact is that mental health issues are far more common than most people realize. One in five adult Americans – 41 million people – will experience mental health issues in any given year. Someone suffering from depression will miss approximately five missed work days and 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months. The cost to the US economy is a staggering $51 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity and an additional $26 billion in direct costs of treatment.

Millennials, the largest segment of today’s workforce, report higher rates of depression than any other generation, and research indicates that depression is becoming more prevalent among younger women. Women, in fact, are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.


“If you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees.”

Tim Munden, Unilever

Unfortunately, many of those suffering from depression or other mental health issues don’t seek help. Employees often stay quiet due to the stigma of mental illness and concern that co-workers or supervisors will think poorly of them. There is still a perception by many that it’s acceptable and even encouraged to stay home from work if you’re physically ill, but not okay for mental illness. Concerns that having a mental health issue can affect career advancement can, or at least appear to those affected, be very real in some companies. Many with depression think they can just “power through it” and pull themselves together.


How employers can help

Employers have a vested interest in recognizing the importance of employee mental health and many are stepping up to act, as noted by Kari Paul in Workplaces are finally treating mental health as sick days, even on Broadway. “If you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees, said Unilever’s chief learning officer, Tim Munden. Unilever is one of many companies like American Express and Prudential who have established comprehensive programs specifically designed to support employee mental health.

What should an employer do? First and foremost, companies need to remove the stigma of mental health. “Studies have shown that [more accepting] workplaces have happier employees with better productivity,” said Michelle Riba, a professor of psychiatry and the associate director of the University of Michigan Depression Center in an interview with Huffington Post.   Awareness and education through frank and open discussions and training is critical in removing mental health stigma, as we’ve reported previously in our blog on Removing the Stigma of Mental Health.

Second, employers need to learn to recognize the signs of depression. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways physically, behaviorally and emotionally. Physically, changes in appetite, aches and pains, changes in sleep habits and feeling extremely tired can all occur. Behaviorally, those with depression may exhibit irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating or difficulty completing daily routines. Increased alcoholic consumption or reckless behavior can occur. Emotionally, a strong and consistent feeling of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness may be noticed.

Some companies offer wellness classes such as yoga or meditation. Exercise can help by raising endorphin levels. Unilever’s mental health program referenced earlier provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways to support employees with mental health conditions is taking advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Comprehensive EAP programs, such as those offered by Espyr, include information workshops and training for employees and supervisors on mental health. Besides helping employees recognize the symptoms of depression, this training prepares workers and supervisors for when and what actions need to be taken when suicide prevention measures are called for. Furthermore, employees have access to counselors through your EAP who are trained and certified to handle mental health issues such as depression.

If you’d like to know more about mental health programs for your company, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to