Why Employers Need to Talk About Mental Health in the Workplace
Today, mental illness is a largely not talked about phenomenon in the United States. But, it’s also incredibly common. In fact, in 2020, 21 percent of adults aged 12 and older had a mental illness. With 52.9 million Americans meeting qualifications for mental health disorder under the DSM V, it’s a crucial part of life and work. That’s especially true considering serious or debilitating mental illness affects 5.6% of the population, or 14.2 million people.
With more than 1 in 5 Americans suffering from a mental health disorder, talking about it, normalizing it, and creating appropriate care mechanisms can be lifesaving. It’s also good for work. So, while mental health has traditionally been taboo, there are plenty of reasons why employers benefit from and need to talk about mental health in the workplace.
Investing in Mental Healthcare is Profitable for Employers
Often, creating new programs in workplaces means justifying them financially. That’s relatively easy for mental health programs. For example, the World Health Organization shares that every $1 invested into mental health treatment and recovery programs generates $4 in improved health and productivity. This means that talking about and creating support for mental health in the workplace improves work, improves productivity, and can quite literally save lives.
Why is that? Mental health intervention, mental health normalization, and reducing work-related risk factors can cause significant improvements to people’s mental health situation.
- Sharing about mental health and getting preventive help can prevent someone from having a burnout or a significant depressive episode because of preventive care
- Good communication and good management allow leaders to notice when things are going wrong so they can assess workloads and shift responsibilities to give someone who is struggling room to recover
- Anonymous spaces to share and report bullying and harassment give employees ways out of difficult situations
- Systems of feedback can allow employees to influence aspects of their jobs that cause significant stress, such as inflexible work hours, low control over work, unclear tasks, poor organization, etc.
Eventually, being able to share information can empower employees to take charge of their own working conditions.
Talking Is Not Enough
It’s good to talk about mental health. But hosting a workshop and sharing about mental health once or twice isn’t enough. You have to work to build a culture of inclusion and mental health responsibility. That means shifting policies and ensuring that when people do talk, they are listened to.
- Ensure that people are being listened to. If someone speaks up or files a report, it should be taken seriously and addressed in ways that do not publicly expose that person
- Policies should be in place to enable inclusion and respect for mental health problems. E.g., flex work, working from home some days a week, having space to destress at work
- Coaching and mental health support should be available for people who are struggling. Providing mental healthcare as part of work can be a great work bonus. It’s also a lot cheaper than paying for an employee who can’t work after a burnout
- Training management and leadership in communication, emotional intelligence, and other crucial skills can help them to respond better to mental health problems. If management isn’t able to lead the charge of showing caring and understanding of mental health problems, no one else will either
- Structuring work in ways that build people up rather than causing stress. E.g., most people thrive in environments where they have a high level of control and ownership over their work, little top-down management and micro-management, and participation in decision-making regarding their work. That can significantly improve quality of life and work satisfaction, and therefore improve motivation and productivity.
Using Mental Health Interventions
Providing mental health assistance and interventions can be cost saving. It’s also an important part of talking about mental health problems at work. Why? If people understand that talking about it is just talking about it, they likely won’t ever speak up. Sharing a mental illness can mean attaching a red flag to yourself in some organizations. Ensuring that your employees know that talking about mental health problems means getting access to more flexible work schedules, mental health treatment, and other interventions can make them that much more likely to actually open up.
For example, you can use workshops and courses to ensure everyone frequently goes over the habits and tools that help people to stay mentally healthy. You can also take steps like ensuring that work-provided insurance covers mental health treatment, therapy, and medication. You can implement coaching and mental health treatment into the workplace. And, employees should always be aware that discussing their illness, symptoms, and avenues of treatment is not just an option, but expected.
While mental health illnesses are illnesses, there’s still a significant amount of stigma surrounding them. No one would judge someone else for having cancer or muscular dystrophy, but people very frequently find themselves being judged for having anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any of a host of other mental health disorders. In fact, some are so stigmatized that people avoid persons with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Talking about mental health disorders, how they impact people, and how common they are can help to normalize those disorders, giving you space to allow people to speak up without feeling stigmatized. That’s especially true for men, where even talking about feelings or asking for help can be stigmatized. Creating programs where a few people are selected, given coaching, and asked to lead this cultural shift is important. For example, teams should be able to discuss feelings honestly, should be able to take breaks when feeling stressed or overwhelmed, should be able to offer help and support, should be able to accept themselves and their problems, and should be able to regularly communicate about mental health disorders. If they can’t, you likely don’t have a supportive and inclusive culture in place.
Mental health problems are becoming more and more common – both as people fail to get treatment and as we understand what a mental health disorder actually is. Today, we face significant stress from economic and social uncertainty, from social media, from a stagnating economy, and from life in general. That has significant repercussions on mental health. Being able to talk about it, to get help, and to adapt work around mental health needs can be the difference between having a breakdown and getting better.
If you or a loved one is struggling, help is there. And, it can help you to get back to normal. If you need help with mental health treatment, drug rehab, or alcohol rehab Compassion Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us to ask about our mental health programs and how we can support your specific requirements as you move into treatment.