Getting Real About Mental Health in the Workplace
ACI Founder and CEO Dr. Ann D. Clark is a frequent media contributor. This article was originally published on BenefitsPRO.
Every organization is only as healthy as its workforce. An estimated 322 million people worldwide live with depression, including 43 million Americans, and up to 56 percent do not seek treatment. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States, and it is estimated that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
Any organization that is serious about growing, managing risk and maintaining a strong, competitive workforce has to start getting real about mental health in the workplace. Beyond depressive disorders, over 26 percent of employed adults have substance abuse or addiction in their family, with 42 of those individuals reporting that their productivity suffered as a result. Considering 16 percent of emergency room patients injured at work have alcohol in their system, it should be no surprise that drug abuse and addiction cost American companies upwards of $81 billion annually.
The good news is that treatment works. In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, over 80 percent of employees treated for mental illness report improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction. Forward-thinking leaders are getting creative with new approaches to mental health at the workplace covering six key areas.
1. Talk about the elephant in the room
Organizational leaders need to get comfortable talking about all things mental health. Through videos, blogs, social media outreach and year-round campaigning, it is important to openly discuss the many myths around depression, share facts about men’s mental health, and talk about shedding the stigma of suicide, drug abuse and alcohol addiction, PTSD, postpartum depression and other common challenges.
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2. Remove all barriers to help
Take stock of employee benefits and confirm if benefit providers are offering 24/7 access to services. In a time when people crave connection, check to see if every single call, text, email, mobile app intake, and live chat is answered by a real person, ready to listen. If someone is brave enough to ask for help, there is nothing more discouraging than being confronted with automated prompts, long hold times, and password stress.
3. Promote mental wellness year-round
Most organizations fall into the trap of only promoting benefits during open enrollment time, but mental health awareness at the workplace should be a year-round priority. Ask your EAP partner for monthly promotional campaigns, video marketing, and social media outreach messaging, and see what additional training and management support services are available on an ongoing basis.
4. Knock down silos
Oftentimes a wide range of whole person care, wellness, mental health, and stress management resources are available across EAP, health insurance, absence management and other benefit providers, but services are scattered and not integrated. Promote what is already available through a unified mental health campaign that connects multiple benefits providers, using engaging video, text, social media and email marketing.
5. Reimagine mental health communications
Mental health benefits and services available are usually found buried deep in the pages of an employee handbook or included in a tri-fold leaflet with images of extremely sad, head-down individuals. These images reinforce negative stigmas and stereotypes: that depression means sadness all the time, that it’s a sign of weakness, and that people are desperate and suffering alone. Reimagine mental health promotion with more nuanced, authentic and relatable imaging and messaging around mental health issues.
6. Get creative with mental wellness at work
A healthy work environment and culture can go a long way in promoting mental and emotional well-being. Turn to your EAP partner for management consultation on policies, changes, improvements and best practices in creating a healthier work environment. An engaged EAP partner can provide strategic consultation on ideas for flexible working arrangements, onsite perks, or environmental changes to improve mental wellness at the workplace.
Awareness is always the first step to positive change. This growing demand for mental health at the workplace calls on brokers and advisors to be strategic partners in reducing the stigma and providing real solutions. With integrated benefit partners and frank discussion, brokers can start breaking down the many barriers to mental health at the workplace and make a real impact on employee health and the bottom-line.
Related Article: Six Steps for Dealing with Depression in the Workplace