Observations: A life taken raises questions about mental health

lisa capobiancoby LISA CAPOBIANCO

STAFF WRITER

A recent week in June was a mournful one in my hometown of Waterbury, as friends, family, and colleagues said goodbye to acting Deputy Police Chief Christopher Corbett.
On Thursday, June 10, Corbett took his own life at the age of 40. A veteran of the police department for 18 years, Corbett was well-respected in the community, and served as one of the investigators who solved murder cases during his career.
I never knew or met Corbett, but we both walked the same halls of Holy Cross High School. His story was heart-wrenching, and also raised, in my mind, the significance of addressing mental health in the workplace.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 4 adults (61.5 million Americans) faces a mental illness in a given year. Furthermore, workers with a mental illness that is left untreated cost employers billions of dollars each year. The Center for Prevention and Health Services reports an estimated 217 million days of work are lost per year due to the decline of productivity related to mental illness and substance.
Mental health awareness may be on the rise, but the stigma attached to it remains. We live in a culture that promotes “being tough” as opposed to showing our true emotions. Suppose a coworker came to you because she felt so distressed that she could not focus on the task at hand, and struggled to get through the day? Would an effective response be, “Just snap out of it and keep busy?” Or would it be best to be open-minded and to listen? But then again, how comfortable do many employees with a mental illness feel even admitting to a coworker (let alone a manager) that they are struggling when we’re taught to just “suck it up and go to work?” The fear of being perceived as incompetent or incapable of handling the job is something that prevents people in many professions from admitting they feel alone. 
Genetics and past experiences can play a role in an individual’s mental health, but, employers can take additional measures to reduce stress and promote well being in the workplace. When left untreated, stress can turn into anxiety or depression long-term.
Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” said in an article on Psychology Today’s website that employers can use resilience-building and stress awareness programs to promote positive well-being in the workplace.
“People aren’t either mentally healthy or mentally ill. Mental health is a continuum,” said Morin in her article, “Why Your Boss Should be Concerned With Your Mental Health.” “An organization’s culture and policies can greatly influence where employees fall on the continuum. Providing a healthy work environment assists people in being at their best.”
Imagine a work culture in which all employees are encouraged to attend “Mental Health Awareness Day,” a day where they have access to mental health screenings, stress-reducing exercises, and counseling resources. Most importantly, the program could give employees an opportunity to break the ice with others who may also be experiencing a mental illness, letting them know they are not alone. They work together on developing a support system and coping strategies, while learning more about themselves.  The end result: more productivity, decreased levels of stress, and a more positive attitude in the workplace. A productive worker is a happy worker, and knowing that the company cares about his or her mental well-being can make a huge difference in the long run. Who knows, it could even save a life.
Corbett’s story is a tragic one, yet it challenges us to think about the way we approach mental health in the workplace. It is an employee’s choice whether to share his or her personal struggle. However, fostering a work culture that promotes a positive well being could inspire employees to break the silence, allowing them to take that next step towards a happy and fulfilling life.
Sources: www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201505/why-your-boss-should-be-concerned-your-mental-health and www2.nami.org/factsheets/mentalillness_factsheet.pdf.
Lisa Capobianco is a staff writer for The Observer. She can reached at lcapobianco@BristolObserver. com.

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