mental health

Workplace Culture Contributed to Lawyer’s Death from Addiction

Attorneys may be the last profession to recognize the need for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces, but as Eilene Zimmerman points out in her New York Times article, “The Lawyer, the Addict,” they need them as much as everyone else. The article is a heartbreaking examination of what drove her ex-husband, a successful patent attorney, to the drug addiction that eventually killed him and how everyone in his life missed the red flags.

Lawyers are notorious for working 60 hour weeks driven by competition for dwindling jobs, professional rivalry and the need to achieve a certain number of billable hours. The effect can take quite a toll. A report in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that 21 percent of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, 28 percent struggle with depression and 19 percent struggle with anxiety. The numbers reporting drug use are much lower, which is unsurprising for officers of the court. Attorneys don’t seem to be more predisposed to addiction than other profession. In fact, studies of incoming law students have shown them as being more physically and psychologically healthy compared to other graduate students.  Clearly the workplace culture and the legal training take a toll.

The sad truth is that there is no segment of society immune from issues with mental health and/or addiction. What is truly tragic in Zimmerman’s story is the fact that there were bright red flags everywhere, but both the workplace culture in law firms and society’s mental picture of successful lawyers rendered them invisible.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Mental Health is a Major Challenge in All Environments

One of the unique features of the university setting is that it often doubles as educational institution and place of employment for students as well as staff. Like workplaces all over North America, providing mental health care is a major challenge. According to statistics from Mental Health America, one in four adults live with mental illness. And yet colleges are just now waking up to the pressing need for services on campus, according to a recent series in USA Today.

There are a number of reasons for the significant increase in the need for mental health services. For one thing, thanks to better treatments and therapies young adults living with mental illness are now able to attend college, something that was unobtainable a generation ago. But old stigmas die hard, and college students can be reluctant to get help if it means that their parents might find out. And for those willing to reach out, there are often too few services and those services are poorly conceived for this complex population. Sadly, many times little or improvement is made until a campus is turned upside down by tragedy.

Another issue is how to fund mental health programs on campuses. Charging students for services can be a deterrent to seeking help when issues are being kept from parents. There are grants in some states, but these may not be enough to increase services to needed levels.

All of this is why I’m working with Mental Health America and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Our need for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces can and must extend to higher education.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

The Silent Workplace Epidemic that Endangers Millennials

Millennial employees get a bad rap—often chastised as being lazy and self-involved, they are actually the largest current generation and swiftly eclipsing baby boomers in the workforce. While they bring plenty to the table—innovation, creativity, technological know-how, inclusiveness—they are also vulnerable to toxic workplaces. The medical journal Pediatrics reports that not only are they more likely to become clinically depressed than any other generation, more young women are struggling with the disease. Clearly they need psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces to make the most of their potential and maintain their physical and mental health.

Not meeting this standard has dire consequences for individuals as well as the nation. This is why I’m working with Mental Health America (MHA) to improve psychological health in America’s workplaces. MHA has studied this problem and found that mental health issues cost $51 billion per year in absenteeism and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs.

My fear is that the current atmosphere of divisiveness, bigotry and bullying promoted by the current administration will compound the problem of mental health in the workplace. Adult bullying in the workplace can cause even more havoc on a person’s well-being than school bullying—many adults need their jobs so they and their families can survive. In a tough economy they may have no other option, so they are forced to endure negative treatment, which gone unchecked can lead to physical and mental illness and even suicide. With one in five Americans afflicted with a mental health issue at any given time, this is a serious consequence. For more information on how to create psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces and maximize the potential of millennials—and all employees—see my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire.

If you have coworkers—especially millennials—who are suffering, I urge you to reach out to them. As I indicated in recent articles about suicide resulting from workplace bullying and living with a person with mental illness, no one has to go this alone. There are resources for help. Choose to be an ally and advocate instead of a bystander. You can make a difference in someone’s life.


How to Tame Negative Thoughts During Trying Times

We’ve greeted 2017 with a great deal of trepidation, but emotional intelligence tells us that while we must be vigilant and realistic, constant negativity can get in the way of happiness. Fortunately with practice you can learn to disrupt and tame negative cycles. Lesley Alderman suggests “The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking” in the New York Times’ column, “Well.” Great advice!


Accountability Counts: Holding Grant Recipients Responsible for How They Use Funds

What do you do when a significant donation to a charitable organization is not being used in accordance with prior agreement? Earlier this year the Faas Foundation was faced with that dilemma, which forced us to make an unprecedented decision. For the first time since the foundation was created in 2005 we lost confidence in a grantee and rescinded our donation of $1 million. This story in the Toronto Star outlines what happened when the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) didn’t implement its initiative to provide Canadian workplaces with training to identify risks of mental illness and support employees living with the diagnosis.  CAMH Loses $1 Million Donation Due to Issues of Accountability  The money was given in good faith to be part of a multi-pronged initiative between the Canadian CAMH and the American organization Mental Health America and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to explore ways to better understand and implement psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces. Sadly, CAMH’s elitist attitude, failure to implement and lack of transparency made us reconsider this donation. Philanthropist Questioned the Credibility of CAMH Before Rescinding Donation  Since this news has broken, another donor has considered removing his contribution to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) due to a lack of transparency and communication. The one error in this article is the assertion that the funds were to create a psychologically healthy workplace solely at CAMH. They were actually donated to fund research into evidence-based solutions for dealing with mental health issues in the workplace. It’s time for grant recipients to be accountable for the monies they receive.  CAMH Donor Says More Transparency Needed About Money

Photo: Brian B. Bettencourt/The Toronto Star 

Using the Workplace to Prevent Mass Violence

The recent events in Orlando are tragic, unprecedented, and were entirely preventable. I’ll be writing more on this soon, but I believe that workplace indicators could have kept Omar Mateen from following the path of violence he chose. It’s been a hard day for both the LGBT and Muslim communities, in addition to the USA at large, but we all have to believe in the ability of compassion to overcome hate. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died. I hope the national conversation turns away from marginalization, blame and politics, and begins to focus more on the preventative mental health perspective that could have stopped Mateen in his tracks. You can read more about Mateen in the workplace in this Daily Beast piece.

Photo: Hilary Swift for NYT

Canine Therapy

I love this article. I know firsthand how dogs can help heal someone, and have advised many people I’ve met with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to consider canine therapy. Canine therapy, and any kind of contact with therapy animals, can make a substantive difference for people suffering from a variety of conditions. Check out more at The New York Times.

Art Credit: Paul Rogers for NYT

"The Impact of Workplace Bullying"

A staggering 80% of people feel they are in an “unhelpful or hostile work environment,” according to Mental Health America. I spoke with Rex Huppke at the Chicago Tribune about how pervasive workplace bullying is, and how it is often an ingrained part of company culture itself. The only way to get employees to trust their HR departments enough to share their experiences is to create trustworthy corporate cultures. Read the full piece here.