How to support mental health at work: Manage work-related mental illness risk factors and encourage employees to engage with available mental health programs and benefits for improved health and higher productivity.
Nearly a quarter of U.S. workers have been diagnosed with depression and 40 percent of them take an average of 10 days off from work each year because of their mental illness, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. The good news? WHO also estimates that for every $1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.
Employers can start to minimize the effects of mental illness in the workplace by identifying work-related risk factors and simplifying access to mental health benefits.
The WHO identified work-related risks, like inadequate health and safety policies, poor communication and management practices, limited participation in decision making or low control over one’s area of work, low levels of support for employees, inflexible working hours and unclear tasks or organizational objectives, as factors that could negatively impact employees’ mental health. The WHO recommends offering flexible hours, job-redesign, addressing negative work dynamics, and supportive and confidential communication with management to help people with mental disorders continue or return to work.
Traditionally, employees have accessed mental health benefits using an employee assistance program (EAP), a time-consuming process where they’re screened by phone and directed to an in-network provider. Benefits providers have started looking for solutions that streamline access to mental health benefits, acknowledging how frustrating the traditional model can be.
Fairview, a health system based in Minneapolis, places a behavioral health provider onsite, or at the nearest clinic, for employees to consult with in person. “The system eliminates barriers; people will know where to go for help. And getting help sooner means that we’re more likely to resolve the issues earlier in the process. We believe that will save the employer money, both with claims costs and productivity,” says Rene Coult-Calendine, Vice President of Market and Product Development at Fairview.
Organizations should develop integrated health and well-being strategies that include mental health intervention, covering prevention, early identification, support and rehabilitation to better support mental health in the workplace. Communicating available programs or benefits, and, more importantly, encouraging their use can make a real difference when it comes to managing mental illness in the workplace.