The U.S. is One of the Most Stressed Countries in the World: Do you know if your colleague’s mental health is okay?

NOD and DiversityInc Recognize Mental Health Awareness Month

By Jayme S. Ganey, Senior Writer, DiversityInc, and Carol Glazer, President of National Organization on Disability

A recent Gallop poll reported that the US is one of the most stressed nations in the world. More than half of Americans (55%) reported feeling stress during a lot of the day, 45% said they worried a lot, and 22% said they “felt anger a lot,” Gallup reports.

Some might say, “Why care?” But you only need to look at productivity at work, sick time, disengagement, and the myriad companies under fire for mistreatment or lack of protection of workers to understand why this is important.

While many workers are merely debilitated by the stress in the workplace, others are actually experiencing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re shining a light on one of the most prevalent, but still taboo health conditions in the country.

Employees Hold Back, And It’s Costly

The reality is one in five people has a mental health condition, making them the single greatest cause of worker disability – and lost productivity – in the U.S., with costs exceeding $193 billion, according to NAMI[JA1].

NAMI research shows 62% of missed work days can be attributed to a mental health condition. The same study shows that in the case of depression, the disorder is linked to an average absenteeism rate of 2.5 days per month, resulting in average costs of $3,540-$4,600 per year, per employee.

“Mental illness will account for more than half of the economic burden of all chronic diseases, more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases combined, according to another NAMI study. We’re talking about trillions of dollars, mostly in the form of lost productivity and unplanned absences.

According to a report that the National Organization on Disability advised on for the WMI, employees with invisible disabilities (many of them mental health conditions ) are less engaged than their counterparts with visible disabilities, likely because the latter workers access the accommodations they need at higher rates. Given the stigma associated with mental illness, it’s natural that workers will hold back on disclosing, and getting the accommodations they need.

And without the right supports, there can be dire consequences for employees—including increasing symptoms, loss of a job, loss of home, incarceration, self or other harm and even suicide. These issues certainly (and profoundly) affect families and communities; but they also significantly impact workplaces, because the majority of Americans spend one-third of their adult life at work.

Who Could Be In Need?

While celebrities like Taraji P. Henson, Dwayne the Rock Johnson, and others have gone public and encouraged people to get the help that they need, what about the everyday person? If you are sitting in a room with four other people at your office, one of you on average is dealing with a mental health condition. “

Mental illness manifests itself in as many ways as the human psyche is complex. It affects housewives, corporate executives, world-class athletes, and caregivers without discrimination. As we’ve reported previously if you’re a caregiver of a child with chronic medical issues, your risk increases by orders of magnitude. Roughly 27% of U.S. children live with chronic health conditions; and nearly half of their mothers have symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, or all three.

One of this article’s co-authors, Carol Glazer, has told her story of caregiving for a son with chronic medical problems and how that contributed to her diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“I became a different person. More cautious, more prone to worry. At times impatient. Or angry with the wrong people. Fear is a constant din in the background… Clearly and unmistakably, through my son’s many life and death surgeries, related complications and repeated hospitalizations, I’d experienced trauma. I would come home exhausted from work only to have to then check in with the caretaker, doctor, and therapists. And I acknowledge that as a middle class working professional, I had supports that others do not.”

The S Word

It’s clear that mental health struggles are not selective in who they impact. Moreover, more than half of the people diagnosed with mental health conditions will seek treatment, even though the monetary costs of treatment are negligible.

The reason people don’t seek this treatment has to do with the stigma of mental illness, which is alive and well in our society and workplaces. Stigma is not exclusive to individuals who don’t understand mental illness. It’s practiced by parents and family members, teachers, the media, health insurers, and even healthcare providers and policymakers.

When you add it all up, in the coming decades, mental illness will account for more than half of the economic burden of all chronic diseases, more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases combined….

We’re talking about trillions of dollars, mostly in the form of lost productivity and unplanned absences.

And with 10X as many people with mental illness in prisons as in psychiatric facilities, this is a public health crisis of tsunami proportions.

While mental health is becoming a more prevalent conversation in the media than ever before, the unsensational stories that fuel the staggering statistics are still not helping the conversation become normal in everyday life without stigma.

Particularly in the workplace, where stigma is a known barrier, people often don’t ask for and receive help because they don’t feel they have permission or safety to speak up. And coworkers are similarly afraid of the unknown. So while an employee would no more watch a colleague trip and fall without asking whether they are OK, they should not be afraid to ask a co-worker whom they suspect is depressed or over anxious or overstressed, if they are OK.

Millennials are more apt to talk about it as they grew up with conversations about it, but navigating the discussion across generations and at work is still a challenge. Generational ideas, cultural ideas, as well as one’s own self-awareness can impede sharing.

So How Do You Start the Conversation?

We would call on people to practice empathy—putting yourself in others positions and think about how you’d want to be treated if that were your situation.

Felicia Nursmen, managing director of employer services at the National Organization on Disability, said: “Recognize your own bias. Focus on people. And increase your exposure to bias,” she said. “What’s most important is that we ask the right questions and that we’re having the right conversations.”

And while employers generally cannot ask someone if they have a disability or the severity of one, you can ask if they whether they need an accommodation to get their jobs done.

NOD’s Corporate Leadership Council has companies who are working to create spaces so that employees are less reluctant to share their stories, thus allowing their managers to create more inclusive workspaces, and benefit from their diverse talents and perspectives. They produced guidelines: 6 Key Tips to Address Mental Health in your Workplace, from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council.

And there are companies leading the pack that you can learn from, including health care company and DiversityInc Hall of Famer Kaiser Permanente, whose “total health” perspective is a model for other companies.

EY, another DiversityInc Hall of Famer, birthed “R u ok?”, an ERG movement out of a Mental Health Summit they attended in 2015. It works through trainings and conversations to open conversations about mental health among employees.

Lori Golden, EY America’s Talent Team abilities strategy leader, discusses the initial outcome of EY’s ability to talk about mental health openly and frankly: r u ok? is “caring about people as well as achieving business goals.” Most rewarding for Golden is that so many people are saying they are grateful that “my organization has the courage to do this.”

There is a protocol covering how to go about asking “R u ok?”: (1) Notice signs of change in the individual who needs help. (2) Ask “r u ok?“ to start the conversation, and see whether this opens up the topic for further discussion. (3) Listen for key information that helps you gain perspective about the situation; this includes what is not said. Finally, (4) act to remedy matters by involving EY Assist or firm leadership to foster a conversation in a responsible way and get the individual/team the help they need. The role of anyone who leads the conversation is not to diagnose but rather to express care and concern when someone has shown a pattern of change in behavior.

So how will you start the conversation this month?


Originally published on

New Employer Survey Reveals Corporate America Still Struggling to Hire People with Disabilities

Despite Huge Demand for Talent and 20 Million Americans with Disabilities Eager to Work, Job Connections Still Falling Short

NEW YORK (May 29, 2019)
– Despite record low unemployment and reports by hiring managers of an enormous demand for talent, a new survey of nearly 200 companies that collectively employ more than 9.5 million people reveals that U.S. employers are still not hiring larger numbers of people with disabilities to meet their talent needs. The findings come from the 2019 Disability Employment Tracker, an annual assessment provided by the National Organization on Disability (NOD), which has researched such issues since 1982 and advises large employers on how to create more inclusive workplaces for people with disabilities. Among the 199 companies surveyed, 40% are Fortune 500 companies with 61% having more than 10,000 employees.

“In a labor market where there is an enormous demand for talent – a demand that is only going to increase – we had expected to see the needle move more than it has,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “While we are seeing more employers embracing the notion that they can’t afford to miss out on quality talent, including people with disabilities, these ideas are not translating into hiring numbers. Many employers either have not made it a priority or simply have not been able to figure it out.”

•	4.0% - Average percentage of employees identifying as having a disability •	13% - Companies that have reached the Dept. of Labor target of 7% disability representation

Just over 1 in 10 companies surveyed (13%) have reached the target set by the U.S. Department of Labor for federal contractors that 7% of their workforce be represented by people with disabilities.

Other key Tracker findings include:

  • While 98% of companies report that overall diversity is promoted publicly by a senior leader, that number falls precipitously to 76% for disability
  • 89% of companies maintain employee resource groups focused on diversity, while only 64% have similar ERGs for disability
  • When it comes to hiring, barely half (51%) focus on campus recruiting for students with disabilities and only 42% create internships for that same population

“The Tracker very clearly shows that the various approaches to hiring people with disabilities all fall to the bottom of the list, despite how frequently companies tell us that hiring is their biggest goal,” said Felicia Nurmsen, NOD’s Managing Director of Employer Services. “This may be because some companies don’t know how to approach targeted hiring, while others feel like they might not be ‘inclusive enough’ yet to start. We try to explain that there are organizations like ours that are eager to help them get started.”

Nurmsen added that NOD’s work in Boston, where NOD has been implementing a pilot program called Campus to Careers, finds that once employers actively engage on a campus and open a dialogue with disability services, those barriers are quickly broken down, leading to employment.

“The good news is that we are seeing some positive gains in other key areas,” said Nurmsen. “One such change is there is a broader awareness of disability inclusion, and meaningful increases in training. In 2018, for example, just 13% of HR generalists report having been trained in disability employment. That’s up significantly in 2019 to 69%. So we have a workforce that is more capable of bringing people into the fold once hired. That tells us that if we can get employers to improve their recruitment efforts, those new employees will be able to make a smoother transition.”

Learn more about the Disability Employment Tracker and download an infographic detailing its key findings.

NOD Statement on ‘Game of Thrones’ Ending Featured by TMZ

NOD issued a statement to popular culture outlet TMZ this week on the ending of hit HBO show Game of Thrones, and the drama’s depiction of disability following a flurry of social media activity on the subject. Felicia Nurmsen, our Managing Director of Employer Services, gave the following statement (WARNING: SPOILERS):

The National Organization on Disability has been thrilled to see disability featured in the hit HBO show Game of Thrones as an ongoing story thread. The series, though set in a long-ago realm of fantasy, has for eight years served as a mirror for society on many subjects, including disability. For most of their respective journeys, Tyrion Lannister and Bran Stark (the show’s most prominent characters with disabilities) are treated at best with pity, and at worst with revulsion and antipathy. Despite disdain and dismissal, each demonstrates grit, creativity, fortitude, wisdom, and courage in not only surviving the long winter, but also in rising to significant positions of leadership; an excellent parallel to the experience of people with disabilities in the workforce. In the moment that ‘Bran the Broken’ is named King of the Six Kingdoms, choosing Tyrion as his chief adviser, Game of Thrones (perhaps accidentally) adroitly captured the irony of disability in America: No matter how much we achieve, the overall impression of our community is fundamentally still one of brokenness. NOD has been working to change that narrative, and generational, landmark media properties like Game of Thrones help drive these conversations further—whether viewers liked the ending or not.

Click here to see the article on TMZ.

NOD’s Felicia Nurmsen Takes to the Airwaves to Discuss Increasing Disability Inclusion in the Workforce

Felicia speaking on an NOD Panel, while gesturing
Felicia speaking on a panel at the 2018 NOD Annual Forum, while seated speakers look on.



Managing Director of Employer Services Felicia Nurmsen visited Philadelphia Focus radio host Lora Lewis for an in-depth interview on disability inclusion and discussed how NOD works with employers and schools to grow job opportunities for people with disabilities.

Said Nurmsen: “People with disabilities want to go to work…. They would like to be productive and can be productive—very productive. Studies show that people with disabilities can be as or more productive than their non-disabled peers and actually have higher retention rates.”

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