Stronger Employee Communication Helps Break Stigma of Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental Health| May 2, 2019
Mental health wellness programs in the workforce are finally getting the priority treatment advocates have urged for years.
Experts have long questioned whether employers were doing all they could to address depression, alcohol and substance abuse and other mental health issues. The recent spotlight on opioid abuse and suicides has only intensified the calls to deal with the issue more openly and urgently.
Creating a stigma-free workplace is one of the chief goals of the 2019 effort. But how do we get there? Employee communication is key. Here are some of the recommended actions from the National Mental Health Association and the National Council for Behavioral Health:
• Educate employees about the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders.
• Encourage employees to talk about stress, workload, family commitments and other issues.
• Communicate that mental illnesses are real, common and treatable.
• Encourage action — especially simple, achievable actions like getting more exercise and leading a more active life, like walking more. Here’s a statistic for incentive: People who walk 8.6 minutes a day are 33 percent more likely to report better mental health, according to a 2016 study by Arup, a worldwide engineering firm.
• Discourage stigmatizing language, including hurtful labels such as “crazy,” “loony” or “nuts.”
• Invest in mental health benefits.
• Help employees transition back to work after they take leave.
• Review your employee assistance program to be sure it’s adequate.
The need is in the numbers. Here are some key statistics:
• Almost half of all U.S. adults (46.4%) will experience a mental health issue or condition sometime in their lifetime.
• 55% of everyone in the United States 18 and older have a mental illness in any one given year — that’s the equivalent of 43.8 million people.
• Only 41% with a mental disorder in the U.S. over the past year received professional treatment.
• Improvements would benefit the population at large because mental illness costs America an estimated $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year.
• Major depression, bipolar disorder and other mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for all people between the ages of 18 and 44.
• People living with serious mental illness have an increased risk of suffering chronic medical conditions, and U.S. adults with serious mental illness die an average of 25 years earlier than others.
What are some specific actions employers can take?
• Breaking the stigma of mental health issues in the workplace by having leaders openly share their personal stories and encouraging employees to share as well.
• Reviewing and improving Employee Assistance Programs to be sure workers are getting ease of access.
• Educating managers and provide them with information and resources to help them recognize and support employees who have symptoms or other signs they may have a condition or disease.
• Increasing efforts to recognize and reward employees who participate in wellness programs and activities.
• Combining digital awareness efforts (texts, emails, websites) with personal experiential activities that promote stress reduction and a work-life balance.
• Holding morale-boosting contests and giveaways for tickets, meals, gift cards, etc.
• Using “influencers” (celebrities, executives, experts) to help spread awareness and promote acceptance.
• Providing access to telehealth as part of the mix, and making sure employees know how and when to use it.