Mental Illness in the Workplace

by Kristina Gabetta

Statistics show that one in four adults has a diagnosable mental illness. More than 50 percent of those with mental illness are not being treated. How does this impact their workplace?

Stress and depression are two of the largest causes of absenteeism in our workplaces. It impacts our bottom line and causes difficulties for our employees. According to research by Harvard University Medical School, untreated mental illness costs the U.S. at least $105 billion in lost productivity each year. Despite the prevalence of mental illness and the high cost to employers, most workplaces do very little to improve their organization’s mental health. Employers can cut their costs; increase their employees’ health; and create a productive, appreciative and respectful workforce by building mental health in their workplace.

Here are some ways employers can support people living with mental illness:

Talk about it. Bring in an expert who can discuss mental health, along with the stigma associated with it.

Learn to recognize it. It is important that employees learn to recognize they’re experiencing a mental illness. If they don’t recognize it, they will continue to suffer in silence. Employees can take advantage of a free, anonymous mental health screening provided by Mental Health America of Arizona.

Assist employees in addressing mental health issues. Create policies that support emotional wellness and treatment. Provide employees with available resources. Bring in an expert who can train managers on supervising those with mental illness.

Foster and model a healthy environment. Encourage exercise, offer stress reduction workshops, allow for breaks and discourage the need to respond to work-related email from home. Management should model a healthy environment for its team. Create and enforce work-life balance policies.

Provide easy access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs can support employees in dealing with mental health issues, along with stress-related pressures. 

Make reasonable accommodations. Just as we accommodate an employee with back injuries, we need to accommodate those with mental health needs. Some accommodations could include switching around their work schedule, providing a safe work station or approving a leave of absence. We need to learn how to create an environment that works for people who have specific needs

Check company insurance coverage. Companies should ensure they are providing adequate coverage. The Federal Parity Law requires health insurance plans to provide coverage of behavioral health benefits and physical health benefits equally. Cutting dollars for mental healthcare can often increase overall medical costs.

Promoting a mentally healthy workplace can be one of the most beneficial steps an employer can take to improve its organization — the sooner, the better!

Kristina Gabetta is executive director of Mental Health America of Arizona, which offers a free, work health survey to help businesses determine whether they have a healthy or unhealthy work environment, along with training services and resources on workplace wellness.

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