Addressing Mental Illness in the Workplace with the Ross School of Business

The newsroom is a stressful workplace that requires long hours, night shifts and being ‘tuned in’ to world events 24/7. Research has suggested that anywhere from four to 28 percent of journalists have suffered from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) over the course of their careers, and a 2001 study showed 85 percent of journalists have experienced work-related trauma. There’s little research into depression amongst journalists – but the newsroom environment can be a tough place to cope with a mental illness.

MAP team with Dr. Michelle Riba and Matthew Shaw

MAP team with Dr. Michelle Riba and Matthew Shaw

As a 2015 Knight-Wallace Fellow, Matthew Shaw, UK Deployment Editor for BBC News in London and Visiting Fellow at the University of Michigan Depression Center, studied how depression is addressed in the workplace, paying specific attention to his own newsroom.

The Knight-Wallace Fellowship provides exceptional journalists with a year of academic study at the University of Michigan. Fellows receive a personalized plan and have access to University classes and resources.

Shaw was interested in the relationship between mental illnesses and the workplace due to his own personal experience with depression. The project involved studying how the BBC newsroom could advance their existing practices assessing and addressing mental illnesses. He also looked at discovering additional strategies that could further assist those who bring their depression to work.

After completing his Knight-Wallace fellowship, Shaw, along with Anne Harrington, became a liaison on a MBA Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) for the Ross School of Business proposed by Dr. John Greden. MAP connects faculty advisors, sponsor organizations, and teams of students to collaborate on complex business problems to provide data-driven solutions.

Sponsored by the University of Michigan Depression Center, the student team visited a variety of organizations and interviewed staff members to identify how different work environments handle mental illness. The MAP team observed the types of programs the businesses had to offer, the teams that addressed these issues and ways in which the Depression Center could get involved in workplace mental health. Companies visited included BBC News, the Huffington Post, Deutsche Bank, American Express, Unilever, PWC and the NHS in England.

Their research found that effective mental health programs work primarily from the top down and that when those at senior management level got involved, stigma tends to be reduced and productive communication begins. Many companies have also created campaigns that tie in mental health with both physical and financial well being.

“You think problems are all separate, but they’re not because even personal finance is linked to some people’s mental health,” Shaw said. “If you have depression, it doesn’t really help if you’re worried about money as well.”

The completed project provided a set of recommendations for the Depression Center and the BBC to consider in the expanding field of workplace mental health.

“It’s still difficult,” Shaw said. “You do have to get boardroom involvement. They want metrics; obviously they want to know about the bottom line, especially in private companies.”

“There are some simple measures that aren’t particularly expensive,” Shaw added. “I think we could probably make a difference for people.”