Mental health issues are very real and widespread. The CDC considers mental health “among the most burdensome health concerns in the United States,” with more than 18% of adults reporting a mental illness in 2016.
Additionally, more than 70% of Americans report one or more symptoms of stress in their lives, including stress specifically from or about their work.
It is not surprising that the combination of these concerns have an effect on productivity, workplace happiness, and even community and family stability. This is why it is important for employers to be intentional in addressing mental health concerns.
It is not only possible for employers to tackle the issue of mental health, it is necessary. Unlike most initiatives, this one not only saves money and increases productivity, it can save lives.
Knowing and sharing the basic facts about mental health in this article, improving the work environment, and making treatment and support readily available to employees can make the work environment better for everyone.
How stress and mental health relate to each other
Experiencing stress is not, by itself, a symptom of poor mental health. An occasional sleepless night caused by an important deadline, or a tension-filled meeting with a client or co-worker, is part of doing any job.
However, excessive stress can contribute to depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and a range of eating disorders. These in turn create poor health and lowered productivity. Many of them contribute to a less enjoyable work experience, which spreads stress to other employees.
The World Health Organization cites workplace mental health concerns as a primary factor in over a trillion dollars in lost productivity world-wide. This problem is made worse because some employees facing stress-related mental health concerns make the harmful choice to use drugs and alcohol to create temporary relief.
This is why it is important for an employer to provide the support that workers need to be happy, productive, and informed about their mental health.
What can a company do to promote better mental health?
Luckily, creating a healthy workplace is not hard, though it does take a commitment on the part of an employer.
Among the many things an employer can do that reduce stress and increase overall mental health and wellbeing in the workplace:
- Create programs where employees can seek promotion and career development
- Inform employees about help available for mental health concerns
- Make sure that access to mental health is covered in employee insurance or supplemental insurance provided by the company
- Recognize and reward the contribution of every employee
- Involve employees in decision-making and celebration
- Promote a healthy work-life balance
- Provide “personal leave” days where employees provide advance notice to handle a range of personal events that might come up, from court dates to graduations, that do not hurt their income
- Develop policies to support employees who indicate stress or experience mental health concerns
Note that there are few answers that are solely about dollars and cents. Sure, having an insurance plan that includes mental health coverage is a financial concern, but many corporations, business, and even small businesses have made the calculation that the expense to support mental health is recuperated by increases in productivity and attendance.
Largely, creating a nurturing and productive workplace includes steps that are part of making any business run better, like sharing responsibility and showing appreciation.
Resources to help companies support employee mental health
Luckily, employers and employees are not alone in looking for resources to create a positive working environment.
The Centers for Disease Control offers tools for employers here:
The American Psychological Association offers employers useful tips here:
And the World Health Organization offers support and ideas:
Additionally, local Better Business Bureaus offer a range of support for employers. In some areas of the country, this includes access to combined health insurance. Pooling resources can often allow a smaller employer to offer a more comprehensive health and wellness plan to their employees at a lower price than a boutique individual plan.
Employers can utilize mental health experts for better results
Some employers find it worthwhile to outsource the work of creating a healthier workplace. Rather than read these resources and research solutions, they hire an expert to come to their workplace to provide information.
Having a mental health expert speak to staff as part of a training day is a great way to make sure that all employees get the same good advice and information. Meeting with this individual before the training allows employers to discuss the presentation confidentially in case they see concerns that might come up during the day.
For instance, the expert might provide some insights about a bad practice that the employer is currently doing. Making that change prior to or the day of the presentation helps show employees that the issue is serious and that steps are being taken.
Just seeing that the employer cares is a positive step toward improved mental health for all employees.
Sakina Issa is a psychotherapist and a mental health expert who addresses mindfulness, self growth, and topics related to parenting and relationships. Read more of her insights, or schedule an appointment at her site SakinaIssa.com.