SEATTLE, Oct. 14, 2020 — Stay Awesome, an American company specializing in mental health communications and connection, has released the findings of a new survey, “How to Connect With Coworkers Experiencing Depression and Anxiety.” The survey of over 100 people in the workforce who have personally experienced depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition sheds light on language dos and don’ts, how to start conversations, and how to continue them. Stay Awesome’s founder, TED Speaker Bill Bernat, believes facilitating simple connection is an effective way to promote workplace wellbeing, culture, and productivity.
According to the Center for Disease Control feelings of loneliness or isolation can cause mental health conditions, which over 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with in their lifetime. Recent studies show the pandemic is causing additional mental health issues. The World Health Organization reports that depression and anxiety cost businesses $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
“While these conditions can be hard, connecting in spite of them—and even because of them—can be easy.,” says Bernat. “This is an undervalued field of study: low-level, practical communications tips and tools. We plan to partner with organizations to expand demographics and topics as we work toward normalizing everyday conversation about mental health.”
The survey questions were developed in coordination with organizational psychologist Dr. Christina Guthier based in Düsseldorf, Germany and psychologist Dr. Bonny Shapin based in Claremont, California. All survey respondents have worked within the past year and have lived with depression (77%), anxiety (81%), or another mental health condition (39%). Almost all (98%) come from the United States or Canada.
Stigma Is a Barrier, but Many Are Surmounting It
Respondents’ greatest fear in letting coworkers know about a mental health condition is being seen as weak (60%), followed by fear of being passed over for leadership or promotion (55%). Roughly a third were concerned they would have a hard time finding a new job (38%) or would lose their job (33%).
In spite of these concerns, a massive 79% of respondents reported talking about their depression or anxiety at work. People most commonly shared the information with a close coworker they trust (74%), their manager (37%), or a coworker with the same lived experience (31%).
Of those who spoke about it at work, an encouraging 60% reported having a connecting conversation about it that made them feel accepted. Still, many had exchanges that were brief (38%) or awkward (19%), and some were ignored (7%) or cut off (6%).
How to Start a Conversation
The most preferred way to start a conversation about the survey-takers’ depression and anxiety is to ask them if it’s okay to talk/ask about it (70%). Another preferred way to open the conversation is to reveal having experienced a similar mental health condition (52%).
Respondents did not consider therapy an embarrassing topic. Over two-thirds (72%) said it’s not offensive to suggest that they consider seeing a therapist. Survey-takers would feel better about the suggestion if it was coming from somebody who had shown a genuine interest in their well-being (68%) or taken time to get to know them (52%).
The top overall factors that would make people more likely to talk about mental health at work would be if they knew their coworker(s) would not make a big deal about it (65%) and could be trusted to keep it private (50%).
How to Grind a Conversation to a Screeching Halt
Our survey-takers do not like canned advice. Two cliches, “Get over it” and “Man up” tied for worst, with 100% calling them annoying or very annoying. Nobody (0%) found them even a little bit helpful. Talking about meds are another don’t. Respondents are less likely to continue a conversation with somebody who asks what meds they take if any (68%) or if they have taken their meds (77%).
Why Words Aren’t Everything
Respondents prefer the phrase mental health condition (45%) over mental illness (25%). Common variations of these terms scored similarly though, revealing that there is no single term that works for all or even most people. Tone of voice does matter. Sixty-seven percent of respondents want people to use their normal speaking voice when talking about depression and anxiety—as opposed to adopting a sad voice (0%).
The full survey is available at stayawesome.com now.
About Stay Awesome Media LLC
Stay Awesome Media is a boutique company based in Seattle specializing in mental health communications and connection. Founded by Bill Bernat, a former technology marketing director and recovering addict who lives well with bipolar II. After giving a TED Talk on How to Connect with Depressed Friends, Bernat has partnered with leading talent to create offerings for businesses to help employees connect. Talkward Live is a one-hour training for businesses that gives simple, practical guidance for talking to coworkers about depression and anxiety. Connecting Story Design replaces the cold isolation of working remotely with the warmth of sitting around a campfire by joining people in small groups to craft and tell true stories that happened to them. Bernat also coaches executives and HR professionals for talks and company communications around mental health. For additional information, visit stayawesome.com.