Mental Health in Tech Industry
When I was a pharmacy student, studying the top 200 most commonly prescribed medications, I was surprised to see a shocking number of psychotropic medications on the list. They included drugs to treat mental health disorders such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety agents, and antipsychotics. Mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental disorders, are among the most burdensome health concerns in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. reported having mental illness in 2016. Mental health disorders are linked to higher rates of disability and unemployment. About 264 million people suffer from depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Depression can reduce a person’s cognitive performance by about 35%. The WHO led a study of mental health in the workplace, and discovered that depression and anxiety disorders alone cost the global economy one trillion U.S. dollars each year in lost productivity.
There is a good chance that you may know someone affected with mental health disorders in the workplace. However, due to the stigma associated with mental health issues, individuals may choose to keep their personal challenges to themselves instead of seeking the help they need. The CDC and WHO encourage employers to promote mental health awareness and provide employees with support and resources, such as low or no cost medical benefits for mental health counseling, to improve mental health in the workplace.
Data Acquisition and Processing
Considering that the tech industry is known to offer great employee benefits, I chose to explore a data set from Open Sourcing Mental Illness (osmihelp.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising mental health awareness in the tech community. The organization was started by a web developer who suffered from mental health disorders and wanted to spread awareness about mental health in the workplace. There has been an annual global survey since 2014. This data set was a survey from 2016 with over 1400 survey respondents from all over the world. It can be found on Kaggle.
After cleaning and processing the data set, dplyr and ggplot2 were used to analyze and create visualizations. In addition, an interactive R Shiny web app was created to allow users to visualize and explore features from the data set. The full app is available here, but some of the most interesting results are shown below.
Who are the survey respondents?
The majority of respondents were male, between the ages of 25 to 40. Of the 1,433 respondents, over 70% identified themselves as male, whereas 22% identified as females and 6% as other. Over 800 respondents were from the United States, mainly from California. Other respondents were mainly from the UK, Canada, and Germany.
At the time they completed the survey, 40% said they currently had a mental health disorder, while nearly 23% said they were unsure if they did. That was certainly more than the 20% that is typical, as noted by the CDC. The fact that 23% didn’t know if they have a mental health disorder is very concerning. In addition, only 59% said they sought treatment from a mental health professional.
Do Employers Offer Mental Health Support?
The CDC and WHO encourage employers to promote mental health awareness and provide employees with resources. Some suggestions include mental health self-assessment tools, free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, and training for managers to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and depression in team members and encourage them to seek help from mental health professionals. To assess mental health support in the workplace, I chose the following four features to analyze: 1) resources, such as mental health education, 2) benefits, such as the ability to see a mental health professional for free or minimal cost, 3) open discussion in the workplace about mental health, and 4) anonymity. The graph below revealed the percentage of respondents that confidently said that their employers offered support for mental health in the workplace. The remaining respondents were unaware of any kind of support at their workplace. About 15% said mental health was formally discussed by their employers, and about 20% was aware that their employers offered resources for mental health. These numbers are rather low and disappointing. They can definitely be improved with more resources and open communications.
Do they take mental health as seriously as physical health?
People feel more comfortable talking about their physical health than their mental health. They are more likely to share with coworkers that they have chronic health conditions like hypertension or diabetes. However, the majority are less likely to share anything about their mental health disorders due to stigma. When asked if they feel that their employers take mental health as seriously as physical health, only 25% answered yes. Asked if discussing a mental health disorder versus physical health issue with their employer would have negative consequences, significantly more respondents indicated that discussing a mental health disorder would result in more negative consequences. Again, confirming that people think that discussing physical health issues in the workplace is more acceptable than discussing mental health issues.
Do you think that discussing a mental health disorder with your employer would have negative consequences?
Do you think that discussing a physical health issue with your employer would have negative consequences?
Overall what is the sentiment with mental health in the workplace among the respondents?
The interactive web app allows users to compare responses to specific survey questions among different age groups, company sizes, and countries with the most participants. Below are some interesting findings. There is a clear consensus to be found among different age groups and even countries that being identified as a person with mental health disorder would hurt a person’s career.
Do you feel being identified as a person with mental health disorder would hurt your career?
When asked if they would feel comfortable discussing a mental health disorder with their direct supervisor, I was surprised with the results. I had expected larger companies would have more resources and support for mental health in the workplace and hence, employees would be more open to discussing mental health with their supervisors. However, fewer respondents were inclined to talk to their supervisors about their mental health disorder at a larger company.
Would you feel comfortable discussing a mental health disorder with your direct supervisor?
Poor mental health can negatively affect an employee's job performance, communication with coworkers, physical ability and daily functioning. This all adds up to loss of productivity. For that reason, it is very important that employees get the support and treatment they need for their mental health disorder. Employers must take mental health as seriously as physical health by openly discussing mental health disorders and providing resources and benefits for mental health in the workplace. The analysis of the Mental Health in Tech Survey data set reveals that more work needs to be done to raise awareness of mental health in the tech community, and more support is needed for employees with mental disorders. OSMI offers education to employers and can also help identify the best resources to support employees with mental health issues. More information can also be found on the OSMH, CDC, and WHO websites.
With more time, I would like to combine and explore Mental Health in Tech Survey data sets available from other years. This data set was from 2016, and it would be interesting to assess if things have improved since. I would also like to explore data from other industries, such as the healthcare industry, to see if attitudes toward mental health disorders are different among industries.
- Open Sourcing Mental Illness. OSMI Mental Health in Tech Survey. https://osmihelp.org/research. Accessed October 21, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Metal Health in the Workplace. https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html. Accessed October 22, 2020.
- World Health Organization. Mental Health and Work. https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/guidelines_mental_health_work/en/. Accessed October 22, 2020.
- Socal Empowered. Ultimate Guide to Mental Health in the Workplace. https://socalempowered.com/ultimate-guide-to-mental-health-in-the-workplace/.
- Man doing human brain puzzle. Character vector created by vectorjuice. https://www.freepik.com/vectors/character