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Normalizing Mental Health Diagnoses in the Workplace

May is Mental Health Month. Not that it isn’t essential to acknowledge mental health needs all the time, but we’re currently calling attention to the importance of hiring those with a mental health diagnosis. Ann Monroe, CEO of A.R.E. Inc. gives an in-depth reflection on why normalizing mental health diagnoses in the workplace and how it can benefit your team as a whole.

A.R.E. Inc. is a peer-run nonprofit with a mission to help those in recovery during their mental health journey. Not only that, but they are also known for their drop-in center, support groups, and recovery plans for those with substance abuse. Peer-run means that each person employed with A.R.E. Inc. has a mental health diagnosis. This is not by coincidence; they require it. Everyone who shows up to work each day has overcome some sort of challenge to work there, and there are plenty of reasons why.

Firstly, it’s important for those in recovery to see examples of others succeeding in their own recovery. With about 60 members dropping in each day, it’s essential for them to see examples of hope, strength, and mostly, trust. Those in recovery are more trusting of a lived experience with mental illness. They are more understanding, because of similar experiences and struggles, and a general lack of ego. “Connection,” as Ann described, “is the most important element of life. If we don’t have it, we lose hope.”

A.R.E. Inc. has two locations, one in Jackson and the other in Hillsdale. They have been known to hire within when they see potential in members who come to the drop-in centers. About one-third of their employees are returning citizens, and also aim to include diversity in all respects, including race and the LGBTQ+ community. Drop-in centers are mostly run by certified peer-support specialists. Those who are helping members have once been in a similar position. 

The staff at A.R.E. Inc. is incredibly loyal, according to Ann. They want to give back to the same people who helped them. Mental illness can cause strays from families, and at the drop-in centers, members are able to find their own families. Some of the struggles members face inhibit them from holding down a job, so drop-in centers allow them to socialize with others, talk about their recovery, play pool, relax in the “zen room,” or enjoy a coffee-house atmosphere. Recovery, to those at A.R.E. Inc., means that you’re learning to live successfully with a mental health diagnosis. With A.R.E. Inc, members learn that they can still have a fun, robust life, while being able to love and feel loved by those around them, without allowing challenges to derail them.

But, how can you ask potential employees about their mental health? Here’s the thing: you can’t. What you CAN do as a leader, is let any employees or potential future employees that their workplace is a safe environment. Leaders in business can also encourage people to speak up when they have mental health needs. There are plenty of perks to hiring someone with a mental health diagnosis. Ann shares the qualities of those that she works with on a daily basis are compassionate, tenacious, resilient, creative, and have respect for others’ life experiences. Being an employer of someone with a mental health diagnosis shows value to employees more as a person, rather than just someone they see each day from 9 to 5. Successful leaders are transparent about their struggles and reassure those around them that they are in a safe space. 

Twenty-five percent of the population has a mental health diagnosis. If that’s something that’s avoided, that singles out a huge chunk of potential and talent. By opening yourself up to those with a mental health diagnosis, you’re opening yourself up to a greater talent pool and more diversified options. Ann advised that business leaders hire people for who they are, not by how many degrees they may or may not have. This can include the formerly incarcerated and those with a mental health diagnosis. If you create an atmosphere of transparency, you are going to build a loyal workforce. 

If you need advice or resources on how to create a workplace more inclusive to those with mental health diagnoses, contact Ann Monroe, at a.monroe@arepeerservices.org.

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