Posted by: Carolyn Lamparella
Date: September 24, 2018
“Mental illness is the single greatest cause of worker disability in the United States.”
– National Alliance on Mental Illness
Considering this startling fact, you may wonder why there isn’t more focus on mental health in the workplace. Our experience as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider to hundreds of small and large businesses has helped us identify some of the most common reasons mental health is overlooked.
First, most employers have limited access to data regarding the specific impact mental health is having on company productivity. Frequently, the effects are masked by physical conditions or are underreported due to the stigma that continues to surround mental illness. Employees are often reluctant to share information about their emotional well-being which then results in a lack of awareness of resources and a reluctance to seek help.
Employers may also feel that offering an EAP program is enough as opposed to implementing a more comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying culture of the company. Real workplace solutions involve a shift in mindset from crisis intervention to prevention and acceptance of the importance of emotional wellness. In order to achieve this transformation, an employer must be ready to integrate mental health information into every level of daily operations; thereby, normalizing mental health and reducing the fears associated with seeking help.
The facts clearly show how much the mental health of workers can impact their employers. According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, there are more workers absent because of stress and anxiety than due to physical illness or injury. Absenteeism has obvious significant impacts on productivity and creates a huge cost burden for the employer as a result of unemployment, disability, and decreased performance.
The American Psychiatric Association Foundation and its Center for Workplace Mental Health reports the total economic burden of depression alone is estimated to be $210.5 billion per year, representing a 21.5% increase over the last 10 years. Nearly half (48%-50%) of these costs are attributed to absenteeism (missed days from work) and presenteeism (reduced productivity while at work).*
Employees often comfortably talk about their physical ailments around the water cooler; “I had the flu last week,” or “Did you hear Sally is having a knee replacement?” and so on. However, we rarely hear from our colleagues about their failing relationships, bouts of depression, or debilitating anxiety because of their fear of being judged or viewed as weak or incompetent. In some cases, employees may have experienced discrimination, bullying, or rejection as a result of their mental health challenges. They may even fear losing their job if they reveal a mental health problem.
Reversing this stigma begins with conversation. In particular, it begins with leaders, managers, and supervisors talking about the importance of mental health and the resources that are available to help employees care for their emotional well-being. This creates an atmosphere of safety, comfort, and acceptance for employees who may be experiencing something similar. The goal should be to create a culture of acceptance in order to reduce the effects of mental health concerns in the workplace.
The following three steps are recommended to begin building a culture of mental health support and acceptance.