World Mental Health Day 2017: Workplace Mental Health

The Cost of Mental Health

Mental health can have significant cost impacts to the U.S. workplace. It is estimated that depression alone costs U.S. workplaces $23 billion in absenteeism. An estimated 10.8% of the full-time U.S. workforce has been diagnosed with depression, leading to an average of 8.7 missed workdays annually, related to poor health. Those dealing with depression symptoms tend to miss more work, be less present throughout the workday, and find expected work tasks to be more overwhelming.

The biggest costs of mental health in the workplace are associated with absenteeism and presenteeism. Presenteeism is the action of employees coming into work, yet with reduced productivity and attention to work tasks. These costs are also commonly overlooked and often not even calculated into the true cost of mental health. In addition to the high costs of these factors, mental health problems can also lead to increased physical concerns. These physical symptoms exacerbate an already costly psychological effect to the workplace.

Awareness of common mental health issues, in the workplace can save businesses billions of dollars, $225 billion to be exact. This is the estimated cost of mental illness and substance abuse to employers annually. Developing a prevention model versus a treatment model can save companies employee absences, presenteeism, and possibly increase productivity.

What does a mental health-friendly workplace look like?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), a mental health-friendly workplace is one that values the health of its employees, both physically and mentally. Specific examples of the mental health-friendly workplace include:

  • Offering programs and practices that promote and support employee health and wellness
  • Safeguarding employee health information and maintaining confidentiality
  • Providing Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or referral resources related to mental health
  • Supporting employees who seek treatment and/or disability leave including transitioning return to work
  • Providing communication regarding equal opportunity employment information

Talking Mental Illness in the Office

Talking about mental illness in the office is critical. Not only does talking mental illness increase employee comfort; but it can also encourage employees to stay with the company longer. According to Joseph Rauch, writer at TalkSpace, creating a reputation for accepting mental health conditions can be invaluable. Opening up the topic of mental health in the office includes:

  • Working together to create coping plans, including mental health days off or specific work accommodations
  • Increase comfortability and confidence in performance by understanding an employee’s needs
  • Creating a culture of acceptance by reducing stigma and keeping the flow of communication open

Tips for Employers

Employers can use World Mental Health Awareness Day to evaluate current awareness in the office and to improve acceptance and prevention in the following ways:

  • Combat Stigma: There is often a stigma surrounding mental health, especially in the workplace. Stigma is defined by Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D as a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person. Employers can combat stigma by talking openly about mental health, educating employees, encouraging equality, and showing empathy and compassion.
  • Celebrate Awareness Days: Celebrating awareness days encourages acceptance and awareness within the work environment. Awareness days may be paired with free mental health screenings to employees. The following mental health awareness days are especially important in order to recognize and normalize mental health, increase suicide awareness, and to promote mental health resources.
  • Start the Conversation on Mental Health:  Many employees are afraid to initially bring up mental health concerns with their reporting managers. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, about 85% of employee’s mental health conditions are undiagnosed. Starting the conversation on mental health in the workplace can open up the flow of communication and lead to more productive and confident employees. It can also provide employees with the diagnostic and treatment resources they need.
  • Inform Employees of Programs or Access to Services that Support Mental Health:  Stigma and a lack of available resources are often what stop the majority of employees from receiving the assistance they need. Employee Assisted Programs (EAPs) specifically have proven to decrease absenteeism, presenteeism, and reduce overall medical costs. EAP services include education on mental health and addiction in the workplace, communication guidance, and ways to meet the specific mental health needs of employees. One factor that has been studied is providing employees with increased rest time or mental health days off. This research has proven that an increase in rest can improve their mental wellbeing.

Tips for Employees

Employees and coworkers are also an integral part of celebrating World Mental Health Day. The following tips are helpful for employees when discussing mental health in the workplace:

  • Watch What You Say: Stigma often comes from poor communication or language. Employees should avoid making judgments or generalizations when it comes to mental health or different behaviors.
  • Ask How You Can Support: You can help, even if you do not understand what your coworker is going through. Sometimes, simply asking how you can support someone is one of the best ways to offer help.
  • Show Interest and Listen: Simply listening is a great way to show support. Sometimes, acknowledgement that they are going through a tough time and that you are there to listen can be extremely therapeutic.
  • Don’t Give Unwarranted Advice: Employees with mental illnesses are frequently offered treatment advice. Offering unwarranted advice, even if you are trying to be helpful, is often not beneficial. It can actually be more helpful to accept the person as they are and ask how you can help instead.
  • Share Information: Education can reduce stigma and inform coworkers of mental health concerns. Mental health awareness days can increase the knowledge of both employees and employers.

Neglecting to understand and accept mental health in the workplace can cost billions of dollars to the economy. Workplace mental health awareness through education is important for both employee health and financial success. With reduced mental health stigmas, increased resources, and open communication surrounding mental health; employers and employees can work together in an accepting, comfortable, and profitable environment.