Breaking the Cycle of Stigma with Chiara

By Vera Oziransky

“Some people believe that it is impossible for people who come from backgrounds like mine to suffer from diseases of depression and addiction”, wrote Chiara de Blasio (daughter of NYC Mayor, Bill de Blasio) last month in a stunningly honest article about her struggle with depression, anxiety and addiction. In fact, more people suffer from mental illness and addiction than most of us realize. Major depressive disorder is the second leading cause of disability in the United States. Mental and behavioral disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and drug use, are the primary drivers of disability worldwide, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20-29 year olds in 2010 alone.

The workplace provides a unique opportunity to promote mental health, yet employers are more likely to focus on physical health and wellness than mental well-being and resilience. Is it possible to have health without mental well-being? The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The relationship is bi-directional; healthy eating and active living can promote mental well-being, yet mental illness also has a powerful impact on unhealthy behavior. For example, adults aged 20 and over with depression are more likely to smoke, and are less likely to exercise and eat healthily.

Progressive organizations, such as Cerner, are already tackling this issue. When will the rest of the business community be brave enough to openly speak about this leading cause of disability in their workforce? When will we stand with Chiara and break this cycle of stigma? The World Economic Forum report on the global economic burden of chronic diseases estimates that the global cost of depression alone in cumulative output loss was US$ 2.5 trillion in 2010 and is projected to reach US$ 6.0 trillion by 2030. In light of this grave outlook, can employers afford to wait any longer?

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