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EMPLOYEE WELLNESS

How employers can help break the stigma of mental health in the workplace?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! With approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiencing mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is imperative that today’s employers focus on breaking the stigma around mental health in the workplace.

Why is it important to employers?

By addressing this taboo topic, employees can educate themselves and seek appropriate resources to remain productive and happy in both their personal and professional lives. A study done in October 2018 by workplace consultant Peldon Rose shows that 72% of employees want to work for employers that champion mental health and wellbeing.

It makes sense. However, with mental illness covering a wide range of conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors to name a few, what can employers do to support employees struggling with these issues? Are there steps they can proactively take to help employees manage certain mental illnesses or conditions?

4 ways employers can help

The following tips will help employers create an environment that fosters positive mental health. It’s important to understand, however, that organizations need to be open about mental health by holding and encouraging honest conversations around the topic.

Despite the fact that most Americans have jobs—evidenced by historically low unemployment rates—it appears that the mental well-being of U.S. employees reached a five year low in 2018. According to new research examining nearly a half million people, the proportion of U.S. employees in the analysis with symptoms of depression rose more than 18.0 percent from 2014 to 2018. The analysis was conducted by Happify, a publicly available app and website offering scalable, evidence-based mental health and well-being interventions.

The data also shows a strong correlation between age and the prevalence of depressive symptoms over the past five years, with younger employees experiencing the greatest declines in their mental health, while older workers saw little deterioration in their state of mind.

“Young adulthood is a transitional time when we’re often just entering the workforce, figuring out who we are and what we want to do with our lives, which can be very challenging and, for some, can cause very negative psychological reactions while not having yet developed the skills to combat those feelings,” said Ran Zilca, chief data scientist for Happify. “What is really interesting about this data is that there has been such a significant downward trend in the mental health of employees in general, and in particular among younger workers, including millennials, over the past five years. While this analysis doesn’t tell us if the causes are internal or external to their employment, we know from prior Happify research that younger adults tend to be more stressed and worried about job-related matters than older workers.”

He adds, “Given the costs of depression for employers – about $210 billion annually and 32 days of lost productivity for each employee with a depressive disorder, this research should raise alarms about the mental health needs of American workers.”

Tip #1: Reduce stress in the workplace

One thing an employer can do to support mental health in the workplace is to foster a drama-free workplace. Create an atmosphere where individuals are encouraged to give constructive feedback to one another. Encourage managers to use positive reinforcement. Tackle negativity and cynicism head on. These efforts need to start from the top down, but don’t be afraid to let your managers brainstorm ways to improve your organization’s culture in this area.

Tip #2: Provide resources

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) provide a wealth of resources for a fairly low benefit investment. These programs offer these resources in a variety of ways such as articles, videos, or apps and cover a wide range of mental health topics. They also provide services that can lead to reduced depression or anxiety such as legal and financial resources, work-life balance solutions, and short-term counseling. 

Go beyond simply providing the resources and encourage participation and interaction with them. Start with leadership.

“Employers set the tone in a workplace,” says Helen Corley, Director of Account Management at Workplace Solutions. “One of the easiest ways to create an inclusive and accepting atmosphere is to share a personal story of how paying attention to mental health was a top priority in your own life. Do you have an example of when your EAP helped you or someone in your household? Share it at your next Town Hall or benefits meeting! If the leaders at the top are willing to share their stories, it will signal that carving out time and using the resources provided is not just encouraged during times of stress, but important in day to day practice.” 

Tip #3: Educate employees

Find ways to educate employees on identifying and dealing with mental health issues. Make sure they know when and how they can use any resources you’ve provided to them. If you have an intranet or internal newsletter, include this information with your other benefits news. If you do not have an EAP to assist with onsite training, Mental Health First Aid can help. They provide overview training as well as training for crisis situations.

Tip #4: Offer good mental health coverage

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received services in the past year. While you cannot control whether your employees seek the assistance they need, you can undoubtedly offer health plans that include improved mental health coverage. While shopping benefits programs, ask about mental health coverage. Compare several plan options to see how coverage measures up.

Conclusion

American workers spend the majority of their waking hours at work. With such a high percentage of mental health issues arising in the adult population, it is inevitable that the workplace will be affected. Employers can proactively encourage employees to take care of their mental health through these low or no cost action steps.


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