Posted by: Carolyn Lamparella
Date: May 10, 2021
“Mental illness is the single greatest cause of worker disability in the United States.”
– National Alliance on Mental Illness
As startling as this fact may be, it has been further exacerbated over the last year. As COVID-19 spread throughout the United States, it has created greater morbidity and mortality related to physical health and has had disastrous effects on the mental health of our population and employees. That’s why there needs to be a concentrated focus now on mental health in the workplace. Our experience as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider to hundreds of businesses has helped us identify some of the most common roadblocks to addressing mental health in an effective manner.
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. 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 because 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 seem to comfortably talk about their physical ailments with colleagues, saying, “I had the flu last week,” or “Sally is taking time off for a knee replacement.” 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 because of their mental health challenges. They may even fear losing their job if they reveal a mental health problem.
Reversing this stigma begins with a willingness to talk out in the open about mental health. Leaders, managers, and supervisors need to open up and share resources available to help employees care for their emotional well-being. This creates an atmosphere of safety and trust for employees who may be experiencing something similar. The goal should be to create a culture of acceptance 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.
Start the conversation with us and learn more about all the ways we can help your company address and improve mental illness in the workplace.