Are you making mental health a priority in the workplace? With companies starting to focus on the concept of Total Worker Health (TWH), it is crucial to consider mental health within this holistic view of employee wellbeing. Not only does caring for an employee’s full scope of health help keep them healthier and happier, but it also keeps a business operating more productively. Here’s a look at why it’s time to prioritize mental health:

What is Mental Health?

Let’s start by defining what exactly constitutes as mental health. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), mental health is the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience and self-esteem. The NSC goes on to note how important mental health is to literally every facet of life, including our relationships, personal and emotional wellbeing, our contributions to society, and how we function at work and/or school. Finally, mental health also plays a significant role in how we cope with and handle adversity in our lives.

As you can see, mental health impacts so much of everyone’s life – and it’s why it’s important to invest in it. If the demands placed on any individual exceed what they’re able to handle and cope with, the situation can become dire.

Sobering Statistics

Studies show that mental illness is far more common than it was originally thought. For instance, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • More than half of all people will at some point be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder in their lives.
  • About 20 percent of Americans – or one out of every five – will experience a mental illness in any given year.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health estimated that in 2017, 46.6 million Americans over the age of 18 – or 18.9 percent of adults – had some sort of mental illness.
  • In 2017, about 11.2 million adults – or 4.5 percent of U.S. adults – had a serious mental illness.
  • Women with a serious mental illness are more likely to seek treatment than men.
  • Young adults – ages 18 through 25 – are less likely to seek treatment for a serious mental illness than adults ages 26-49 and those 50 and up.

Workplace Data on Mental Health

According to the Disability Management Employer Coalition, about half of all respondents to a 2019 “Mental Health Pulse Survey” indicated that their organizations do not provide any training to managers on how to identify employees who may be struggling with mental health issues. Furthermore, about 55 percent of respondents indicated that their employers don’t have a mental health strategy in place and tend to deal with issues reactively and not proactively. Furthermore, about two-thirds of respondents indicated that their employers do not track or assess the prevalence of mental health issues and the direct and indirect impact that they’re having on the organization.

It is time for businesses to do more to care for the mental health of their employees. So, what can be done to focus on the mental health aspect of Total Worker Health?

The Value of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, are voluntary, work-based programs that serve as resources for counseling, referrals and offer other services to employees who are experiencing personal or work-related problems. EAP counselors work confidentially in consultant roles with managers and supervisors to address employee needs and organizational challenges. With the cost of mental health and substance abuse disorders potentially costing more than $100 billion every year, EAPs serve as a valuable resource for both employees and employers.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it’s estimated that EAPs can help save employers up to $16 for every dollar invested in such a program. That’s a significant return on investment. Furthermore, the Workplace Outcome Suite noted that work missed due to mental health related issues improved by 48 percent after employers established EAPs.

COVID’s Impact on Mental Health

With the stress and strain of a pandemic, workers are facing mental health challenges now more than ever. According to the U.S. Census, depression and anxiety have tripled since the pandemic began. According to other surveys, employees are looking for their employers to cover some key responsibilities so they can ensure they continue working or return to work safely. These include:

  • Availability of personal protective equipment.
  • Notification if a fellow employee is sick.
  • Requirement to follow safety and personal hygiene practices.
  • Proper cleanliness and disinfection.
  • Follow proper protocol if someone tests positive.
  • Enforcement of social distancing.
  • Mandatory testing for employees sick with the virus before returning to work.
  • Opportunity for employees to provide feedback on COVID-19 policies, practices.

These points should not be a barrier, they should be a given within a company. Make it a point to listen to your employees and pay attention to how they’re acting. Be sure to acknowledge their personal and professional issues and validate their feelings. It’s time to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing is – and employers should take a more active role in protecting it.

For more information on what you can do to focus on mental health and Total Worker Health, visit the American Psychiatric Foundations’s Center for Workplace Mental Health and access numerous resources to make the workplace happier, healthier, and safer. 

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