Written by Robb Smith, CEO – Integral Life and on the ADURO Advisory Board
In his seminal book In Over Our Heads, developmental psychologist Robert Kegan addresses the complexity of modern life and most adults’ inability to navigate it, pointing out that up to two-thirds of adults are not equipped to function in a fast-paced, globalized, democratic world. They are, as the title suggests, literally “in over their heads” relative to the complexity of the world today.
Alongside this psychological dimension of overwhelm are challenging external forces: societal division, fragmenting cultural values, economic stresses, work-life balance challenges, and now the rise of social media and other digital influences. Together, they combine to paint a clear picture: there’s a significant amount of mental and emotional stress on people, and yet they’re under-equipped to cope with the pace and complexity of much of it. As social psychologist Dr. Jean Twenge says, somewhat shockingly, “I think the research tells us that modern life is not good for mental health.”
The evidence suggests she’s right: symptoms of depression and anxiety have been increasing since the 1930s. Beyond the complexity of life, Twenge points to reasons we might be suffering from these trends.
Paradoxically, employers have probably both harmed and helped these trends. On one hand, they’ve been the driving economic force behind greater geographic dispersion, social mobility and therefore social isolation. On the other, arguably the workplace represents among the most important social “tribes” that many people have in their lives (beyond their live-in family). It is telling that workplaces that are able to promote “best friendships” at work have higher work engagement scores; the chronic disengagement problem in the American workplace seems to be tied up with the lack of meaningful relationships at work.
Employers are on the front line
In any case, employers will remain on the front line of the mental health challenge because of how central the workplace has become in the overall fabric of modern life. Consider: one in five Americans has a diagnosable mental health condition. People with depression have a 2.5 times higher risk of on-the-job injury. Mental illness and substance abuse costs employers between $79 and $105 billion each year. Depression alone costs U.S. businesses about $70 billion in medical expenditures, lost productivity and other costs, and close to $12 billion in lost workdays each year. Additionally, more than $11 billion in other costs accrue from decreased productivity (from symptoms that affect work habits, sap energy, cause problems with concentration, memory, and decision-making).
The bottom line is mental health is no longer an optional aside in the overall health, wellness and benefits package. It’s strategic, and the smartest companies are those that recognize it and are beginning to act accordingly. To learn more about how you can take action to alleviate some of the mental health challenges of the workplace, read our blog Four Steps to Mindfulness.
Robb Smith is CEO and co-founder of Integral Life, a digital platform supporting advanced personal development and the global trend towards meta-integrative human capacities. He was founder and creator of Chrysallis, which was the world’s most comprehensive personal and professional development app. Chrysallis was nominated for the 2015 Goldman Sachs Healthcare Startup of the Year and in 2016 for the IONS award for Transformational Technology. In 2016 Chrysallis was acquired by ADURO, where Robb now chairs the Advisory Board.