Make Mental Health Awareness a Priority with Your Medical Sales Team

Every May, we take time to appreciate Mental Health Awareness Month, but oftentimes, we only focus on anxiety and stress in the workplace. How to reduce stress for your teams… How to prevent burnout… and so on.

While those are important wellness generalizations to understand and address in the workplace, there are many mental health issues your employees deal with each day. Medical sales leaders should be aware of these issues and be more prepared to support their team members who might be confronting them. This has become even more apparent in the current pandemic forcing us all into times of stress and uncertainty and further straining our emotional, mental, and physical health. 

For this Mental Health Awareness Month, here’s a high-level look at various types of mental health disorders, and how to prepare to help reps overcome obstacles associated with them:

Anxiety & Stress Disorders

It makes sense that a lot of focus tends to be on anxiety and stress in the workplace. An estimated 264 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, according to a 2018 report from Our World In Data. Additionally, nearly 20% of U.S. adults reported having an anxiety disorder in the past year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

It’s important to understand that there are a number of more specific illnesses that fall into this category. Other anxiety disorders include: panic disorder, agoraphobia, selective mutism, sleep disorders, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. Each of these disorders may stem from anxiety, but they all have their own symptoms and treatments as well as impacts on productivity and well-being at work. 

Depressive Disorders

Depressive disorders are nearly as prevalent. In fact, according to the same report from Our World In Data, about 264 million people worldwide live with depression. In 2014, 6.7% of adults in the U.S. experienced at least one major depressive episode that year, according to the NIMH.

Major depressive disorder is the most commonly diagnosed form of depression, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Other related disorders include: persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), premenstrual dysphoric disorder, depressive disorder due to another medical condition, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

While depression and anxiety disorders have their own categories, it’s also important to know that the symptoms often overlap. According to the ADAA, there is clear evidence that many people suffer from both disorders.

Other Disorders

Outside of anxiety and depression, which for many people are easier to understand or relate to, there are dozens of mental health challenges people face, according to the ADAA.

Bipolar disorder causes unusual shifts in someone’s mood, energy, and ability to function. Mood shifts can last days, weeks, or longer, and many people go through very high and very low periods.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a body-image disorder where a person has persistent and intrusive fixations with an imagined or slight defect in their appearance. People with BDD think about this flaw for hours each day, which can interfere with their daily functioning.

Body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) are a group of related disorders including hair pulling, skin picking, and nail-biting. 

Eating disorders can affect people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group. National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects millions of people from all walks of life. According to the NIMH, OCD currently affects approximately one in 40 adults in the U.S., and more than five million adults will be diagnosed in their lifetime.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating illness that can afflict people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault, or other life-threatening event. According to the ADAA, there are currently about 8 million people in the U.S. living with PTSD.

Lastly, about 20% of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder such as depression have an alcohol or other substance use disorder, according to the ADAA. An anxiety disorder may lead to using alcohol or other substances to self-medicate, and the substance abuse can lead to other disorders. It is a vicious cycle. 

Helping Medical Sales Reps with These Disorders

Now that you know a little bit more about different mental illnesses, you need to look into what you can do to improve awareness and offer valuable resources to your employees. It’s critical your company takes greater steps to support employees who may face one or more of these disorders.

It all starts with the stigma. Only one in four of those with an anxiety disorder have told their employers, according to the ADAA. The majority who have not told their employers cite reasons that boil down to one thing: mental illness has a negative connotation in the U.S. It’s important to make sure your employees do not feel that stigma exists at your company and on your team.

There are a number of ways mental health can be prioritized in your medical sales organization. First, you can implement mental health policies to benefit all employees, including clear language that allows sick days to be used for mental health issues. You can also ensure your company’s medical insurance options cover many kinds of therapy, including virtual therapy, like TalkSpace and Better Help, especially in remote working environments where employees work with more autonomy and the accompanying isolation.

Outside of policies, you can arm your employees and managers with information. Give employees access to education and resources from national organizations like ADAA. Require training for managers that helps them to reduce the mental health stigma by talking openly about policies, and encourages them to prioritize active listening, employee engagement and work-life balance for their medical sales teams.