Are You OK? Understanding Mental Health in Challenging Times

How often do we ask the question “How are you?” in a day? We often treat it as an extended greeting of hello rather than a meaningful question. As a matter of fact, no one feels OK all day, every day.

Many of us will feel stressed, exhausted, sick, anxious at times; these are all totally normal human emotions that every person will experience in their life, especially at stressful or trying times. But for some, “not feeling OK” may be a symptom of a mental health problem.

It’s OK Not to Be OK

The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new dimension of mental distress on many. Anxiety of the future, for our health and our loved ones, being overwhelmed with homeschooling or caregiving, being challenged by confusing information, feeling lonely in times of physical distancing, or being in an abusive relationship intensified by a lockdown situation: these are just a few examples that all contribute to mental distress. Remembering that stress in these times can be compounded when experiencing structural inequalities in everyday life.

Even though in a recent internal survey, SAP employees reported satisfaction with the company´s guidance and support during the pandemic, people feel impacted by the crisis. Almost a third of employees rated their current stress levels higher than their current satisfaction. This imbalance may put them at risk, as the likeliness of symptoms for mental impairment — which eventually might go over into the diagnosis of a mental disorder like depression — correlates with a stress-satisfaction imbalance.

What Is a Mental Disorder?

While every single person can experience temporary mental health issues resulting in impairment of mental or physical health at stressful or trying times, a mental disorder on the contrary is a diagnosable illness of the body that affects a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behavior.

Mental illnesses quite often affect or temporarily disrupt a person’s ability to work, carry out normal daily activities, or maintain personal relationships.

Some examples for mental disorders are anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders. One in four people will be affected by a mental disorder in a given year.

Early Detection is Key

Knowing common warning signs of mental illness is crucial for getting help as early as possible. This is not trivial, as the range of potential symptoms is huge and as with many things there is no strict definition of “normal.”

Furthermore, diagnosing mental illness sometimes is not a straightforward science. While it is an illness of the body, we cannot unfortunately test for it the same way we can for example test blood sugar levels for diabetes. Often there is a fluent transition between poor mental health and mental disorder, depending on the extent of impairment to maintain relationships and function in private life and at work.

A 2020 McKinsey study found that prevention and early intervention programs that effectively address mental health can help to become more resilient, and experience stronger personal happiness and success.

Are You OK? Mental Health Initiative

Promoting mental health and psychological safety has been a feature in SAP over the past years. World Mental Health Day is October 10, and with the increased need during the pandemic SAP has started a lasting employee initiative that not only promotes supporting resources for both good mental health and mental health problems, but also invites employees and leaders to engage in a sustainable way.

Are You OK? SAP Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Natalie Lotzmann, on Mental Health at Work

Each one of us can foster a culture in which all employees feel comfortable and safe speaking out about mental health issues they are suffering from, what they need to deal with in their family, or what they observe at the workplace.

The employee initiative will cover the many facets of mental health in the coming weeks and months to help people reach out for support when needed — from prevention to early detection to case management and reintegration.

You Are Not Alone

Whatever symptoms you may have, be assured there are many others who are in it as well or have been in it before. Daring to speak about an issue and to seek help is an important first step to get out of it.

A Deloitte study found 81 percent of respondents who talked about their mental health at work reported reduced stress levels and increased confidence and productivity. The initiative has plenty of channels for people to reach out to in a way they are comfortable with. SAP’s confidential telephone helpline through the employee assistance program provides a globally available, 24/7 counseling service for all employees. SAP’s own team of medical experts are also available by confidential mailbox, telephone, or drop-in service in some locations. Peer-to-peer networks offer coaching, support, and guidance that employees can reach out to virtually (or onsite and within COVID-19 guidelines).

Stigmatization Has No Place in SAP

For employers, caring for mental health is both a matter of a healthy culture and a clear business case. SAP is committed to a no-stigma, inclusive culture that supports maintaining the mental health of its employees by prevention, early detection, case management support, and reintegration.

According to SAP CEO Christian Klein, “As we need head, hand and heart to deliver on our promises, we need to stay healthy and balanced in body and mind.”

“You Are Not Alone” – Recognizing World Mental Health Day 2020

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“You Are Not Alone” - Recognizing World Mental Health Day 2020

Clearly, mental health is an important topic for people managers, as they can guide employees at risk by being sensitive and empathetic and providing and facilitating appropriate support.

To enable leaders in playing a strong role in employee support, a new portfolio of learning offering is coming onstream.

Poor mental health may disrupt our thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior and it has significant negative effects on our relationships and our satisfaction in life. Early detection is key. Stay informed and get support if needed.

Common Warning Signs

Recognizing common warning signs of mental illness may enable early countermeasures or treatment that restores health, minimizes suffering, and prevents loss of performance or long-term absences. Each mental health disorder has its own set of unique symptoms, though they can often overlap. Common signs can include:

  • Changes in mood, behavior, or personality compared to “sometime earlier”
  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Difficulty concentrating or staying still
  • Seeing, hearing or believing things that aren’t real
  • Trying to harm or end one’s life or making plans to do so
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort or difficulty breathing
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Excessive use of alcohol, medication, caffeine, or drugs
  • Severe, out-of-control, risk-taking behavior that causes harm to self or others

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health support,
please reach out for help.

SAP is committed to fostering a culture of inclusion and eliminating the stigma around mental health disorders in the workplace. Learn more at sap.com/mentalhealth. SAP also offers a variety of programs and resources to help employees through challenging times. Learn more about them here.


Natalie Lotzmann is chief medical officer and global head of Health and Well-Being at SAP.
Torsten Paul is company medical officer, psychiatrist, and psychotherapist at SAP.