University of South Florida


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Mental health in society and the workplace

USF SafetyFlorida Consultant Clarence Rodrigues discusses the impact of mental health on workers and how symptoms can be managed.

Mental health is constantly in the news of late and is considered a major social problem. It can be associated with dangerous behavior and seen as threatening to society and the social order, especially in the media. However, there are widespread misunderstandings about mental illness, and many remain unaware that their symptoms could be connected to a mental health condition and therefore don’t seek treatment. Since an individual with a mental disorder does not look visibly different from others, the issue is dismissed frequently or minimized, adding to the challenges of living with a mental health condition.

How widespread is the problem?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMH):

  • 1 in 5 American adults experiences mental illness in any given year.
  • 1 in every 20 adults is living with a severe mental health condition such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or long-term recurring major depression.
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder yearly.
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14.
  • People with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. People with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to have these conditions.
  • 32.1% of U.S. adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder in 2020. (17 million individuals)
  • The unemployment rate is higher among U.S. adults with a mental illness (6.4%) compared to those without. (5.1%)
  • High school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out as their peers.
  • Students aged 6-17 with mental, emotional, or behavioral concerns are 3x more likely to repeat a grade.

Mental health is a global problem, and depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Trying to tell the difference between normal behavior and what might be the signs of a mental illness can be difficult. No simple tests exist that determine if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of a person with mental illness. While each disease has its symptoms, the NAMH lists common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

  • Excessive worrying or fear.
  • Feeling excessively sad or low.
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning.
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria.
  • Prolonged or intense feelings of irritability or anger.
  • Avoiding friends and social activities.
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to others.
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy.
  • Changes in eating habits, such as increased hunger or lack of appetite.
  • Changes in sex drive.
  • Difficulty perceiving reality. (Delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s feelings, behavior, or personality. (“lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs.
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes. (Such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle everyday problems and stress.
  • Intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recognized that mental health can have repercussions in the workplace and has provided advice and suggestions for employers on its website. Workplaces can have many stressors. In a world where personal issues can be challenging; workplace issues can increase the risk of coping with mental health challenges. Work and emotional stressors can collectively make it more difficult for employees to get their jobs done, reduce their productivity, and decrease their well-being, leading to a total breakdown. As a result of these stressors employees may be facing, a holistic approach is needed to address the issue throughout the community, with employers being part of the solution.

In a survey by the American Psychological Association, over 85% of employees surveyed in 2021 stated that actions from their employer would help their mental health. According to the World Health Organization, for every dollar U.S. employers spend treating common mental health issues, they receive a return on their investment of $4 in improved health and productivity. There are crucial strategies employers can do to assist their employees in alleviating stress. Most importantly, employers should be aware and accept that individuals can carry an emotional burden unique to their circumstances. Secondly, employers should show empathy and reassure employees that they are open and receptive to discussions about employees’ work stress by creating a safe and trustworthy space. Another helpful strategy is identifying factors that make it harder for employees to get their job done and adjust accordingly. Finally, and of equal importance, is for employers to provide access to resources (employee assistance programs or other supportive networks) and ensure that individuals who need help know where to find it. Reducing workplace stress can benefit an organization and society. It can improve morale, increase productivity, reduce workplace injuries, and sick days, improve physical health, and reduce turnover.

Individuals can find a collection of information on warning signs and symptoms, resources for seeking help, treatments, and studies conducted within the workplace in the following articles:

American Psychological Association (APA):

Harvard Business Review (HBR): It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work (


Mental Illness and Social Problems:

National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI):

National Library of Medicine (NIH)

Nation Public Health Week (NPHW):

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

If you need assistance and recommendations on improving your safety management systems and your role in the process, submit a request for a FREE consultation from USF SafetyFlorida at

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