High Functioning Anxiety and Eating Disorders in Corporate America – Part I

Man getting ready for treatment

Generalized anxiety disorder and eating disorders commonly co-occur, particularly when it comes to individuals that are high-achievers in school or their careers. All of these factors intertwine when it comes to corporate America, as success in this realm often requires high-achieving personalities.

In this 3 part series, we will explore how the culture of corporate America leaves individuals vulnerable to developing an anxiety disorder and/or eating disorder. First, let’s discuss what we mean by the “culture of corporate America” and how this relates to mental illness development.

Corporate Culture

Many of you may already be aware of what corporate culture in America is, as you are likely living in it. A 2019 article in Forbes exploring American workplace culture pointed out that Americans’ intense working habits are practically “still in the dark ages.” He notes that “Americans experience a more burdensome work week than many of their peers abroad, spending interminable hours at the office, wolfing down lunch at their desks, letting vacation days expire unused, and answering emails after hours and on weekends [1].”

Compare this to numerous other cultures “where 20 to 30 days of vacation are the norm, the maximum length of the workweek often is set by law, and paid parental leave is mandated. Some countries have even tried to legislate the “right to disconnect” for workers besieged with after-hour emails and phone calls [1].”

The United States is the only industrialized country that does not have national paid parental leave [2]. Those that are exhausted, overwhelmed, and burnt-out by American culture may find themselves daydreaming as they read that last paragraph, hoping for a day when their workplace may advocate for its workers in that way.

Many attribute the dogged work habits of Americans to the “American Dream” and consider it the price paid for those who want to climb the ladder and achieve a better life. This work ethic can sometimes bring about success and achievement.

Corporate America’s Effect on Mental Health

Many people can get overloaded with work and stress in corporate AmericaHowever, it almost always brings with it increased mental health issues and unhappiness in personal aspects of life. Individuals in America experience increases in burn-out and mental health challenges and report that they do not seek support due to possible workplace or employer stigma.

The National Alliance on Mental Health has reported that “Eight in ten workers say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment for a mental health condition. In addition, mental illness costs the economy about $200 billion in lost earnings each year [3].”

There can be no denying that working oneself to the bone is not an effective or sustainable way for an individual to live, nor is it what is best for the economy or corporations. Many companies are beginning to understand this concept and have begun promoting mental health days and creating programs and initiatives to support their workers’ mental health.

Even so, American ideals behind work ethic contribute to individuals not taking advantage of these opportunities in an attempt to “get ahead.” In this vein, corporations and individual workers are “playing the short game,” trading current mental, emotional, and physical well-being for present benefit while not considering, or caring about, the long-term consequences.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, we will explore how these work ideals and corporate beliefs impact development of anxiety and eating disorders.


[1] Higgs, B. (2019). Is america’s corporate culture in the dark ages? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesspeakers/2019/12/16/is-americas-corporate-culture-in-the-dark-ages/?sh=3b0bc18540b4.

[2] Unknown (2020). How to navigate your way through American workplace culture. Stump & Associates, retrieved from https://usvisagroup.com/american-workplace-culture/.

[3] Unknown (2016). NAMI launches sitgmafree company partnership. National Alliance on Mental Illness, retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2016/NAMI-Launches-Stigmafree-Company-Partnership.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published November 17, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 17, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.