It’s Time to Support Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace
by Pauline Krutilla
Mental health issues are costly, especially when left untreated. Spending on mental health services is predicted to reach $238 billion in 2020. Nearly one in five U.S. adults report a mental health issue each year. In addition, 71% of adults report at least one symptom of excess stress, such as headaches or feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Common sense dictates that by adequately addressing mental health issues in the workplace, we can reduce health care costs, while improving the lives of employees.
Is mental health really a business issue?
To achieve total wellness, employees need to flourish physically, socially, emotionally and mentally. Poor mental health and excessive stress may lead to anxiety, depression and substance abuse that can negatively impact:
• Job performance and productivity
• Employee engagement
• Communication issues with coworkers
• Physical capability and daily functioning
As a society, we need to dispel the outdated notion that mental health is something separate from “regular” health, and begin seeing it as an integral part of overall health.
Erasing the stigma
Stigma is the biggest obstacle surrounding mental health services. A 2019 Mental Health Workplace Study by Teladoc Health1 confirms that stigma surrounding mental health is firmly established in the workplace. Almost half of survey respondents said that negative stigma about mental health still exists in their workplace. This study showed that 82% of employees diagnosed with a mental health problem did not confide in anyone at work about their issue. Most concerning, 55% of respondents said the reason for not telling someone at work about their mental health problem was fear that the information would negatively impact their employment.
How can employers help?
Employers can reduce the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health by openly communicating about this topic, so employees are aware of resources available to them. Information sharing can be done through intranets, blogs, social platforms, company newsletters, emails or workplace education sessions.
An opportunity exists for leaders to create a work environment in which no stigma about any health-related concern exists, so that employees feel free to seek support and receive the care they need. Unfortunately, employees experiencing mental health issues frequently go undiagnosed — as they attempt to personally cope with their problems that interfere with work and life.
Opening lines of communication
The Teladoc study suggests that when company leaders speak openly about mental health challenges, they send an implicit message to employees that “it’s okay to seek help.” Open communications foster an environment of trust. Employers should identify and address any (either real or perceived) obstacles standing between employees and the mental health services from which they could benefit. Proactive, open communications on this formerly “hushed” topic can help employees feel confident that their employer takes mental health — as well as their physical health — seriously.
An EAP partner can help, too
Employees and managers should be reminded that their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available to help deal with life stressors — so those issues don’t carry over into the workplace. As an example, Advocate Aurora EAP offers employees telephonic or in-person counseling to address mental health-related concerns. Employees (and their household members) have no-cost, confidential, access to masters-prepared counselors. A counselor will assess the situation before recommending a resource, therapist, or service to that employee. The EAP does not provide long-term counseling, but will help get the ball rolling. Reluctant employees may be most comfortable with telephone-based or remote mental health counseling and support.
‘Normalize’ the conversation
Creating an environment that values open communication and ensures employee confidentiality can help “normalize” mental health conversations. These conversations should leave employees feeling heard — knowing that if they need help, it’s available — and their employment status won’t be jeopardized. If an employee shares a mental health concern, managers should be prepared to listen and respond supportively. They can direct the person to the care they need through their EAP or the organization’s health plan.
A parting thought
The workplace is an optimal place to create a culture of overall health, especially when organizations promote both mental and physical health. A healthy, supportive work environment can translate into:
• Higher employee engagement and loyalty
• Increased productivity and effectiveness
• Health cost savings and an improved bottom line
One thing is definite: the mental health crisis is real. Stigma, coupled with a lack of access to mental health resources and support, contributes greatly to the problem. Employers can take action by offering:
• Open and honest communications
• Education and information on this topic
• Access to mental health benefits
By taking these steps, employers will encourage employees to reach their full potential — not only through improved job performance, but in their overall quest for total health and wellbeing.
1Teladoc Health. (2019). Tackling a Global Mental Health Crisis in the Workplace. How Employees View Mental Health at Work and What Employers Can Do to Help (pp. 1–16). Purchase, NY.
Pauline Krutilla, director of Advocate Aurora EAP, is available to talk about what makes an effective EAP program, and what every employer needs to know.