By Mike Jacquart
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a perfect time for employers to be concerned about the mental well-being of their employees. Why? Because mental health affects a lot of workers! According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
Not only are mental health issues common, employers should be concerned because mental health IS health! If you sprained your ankle, would you just get some ice out of your fridge, elevate your foot, ice your ankle, and leave it like that, without going to a doctor? Of course not. So what makes people think they can just “suck it up” on their own when it comes to a mental health problem, without seeing someone trained in mental health?
Not seeking treatment makes no sense, and yet this happens all too often. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), possibly as many as 80 percent of people with mental health concerns never receive treatment. Consider how many of your employees need treatment, but are not receiving it.
Impact on Employers
Fatigue, persistent sadness, and other problems not only impact personal lives, but also carry over into people’s professional lives with a lack of concentration, absenteeism, presenteeism, and even short-term disability.
According to Mental Health America, left untreated, clinical depression is as costly as heart disease to the US economy, costing over $51 billion in lost productivity and absenteeism from work. The Harvard Business Review reports that workers suffering from depression lose the equivalent of 27 working days each year – 9 because of sick days or time taken off of work, and another 18 due to lost productivity.
That’s not all. Mental health conditions strike many Americans in their productive working years, and the results are so severe that WHO research shows that mental health conditions cause greater disability than cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and diabetes!
With facts like these, how can any employer overlook the mental health of their employees?
Stigmas to Treatment
As stated, as many as 80 percent of people with mental health concerns never receive treatment. The bold and italicized text below lists numerous reasons why this is the case. Maria Lund, president and COO of First Sun, a South Carolina-based EAP, shares insights on how an employer might address the issue. Stigmas include:
* Fear and shame – People don’t want to be thought of as being “mentally ill” or “crazy.” Lund: Rather than saying that there may be something “wrong” with the employee, repeat the message in words and in educational materials that people need to be at their best in the workplace, and you are simply working together toward that goal.
* Lack of insight – This is the, “there’s nothing wrong with me,” “I don’t need any help” thinking that paralyzes people into believing that they don’t need any assistance. Lund: Share that we all have challenges, and it is up to the individual to see them as opportunities to learn and to grow. Again, don’t stress what is “wrong” with the employee but what could be better.
* Lack of trust – “I’m not telling a doctor about my problems.” People are also reluctant to share personal, sensitive information with their employer. Guaranteeing protection of privacy is essential for building trust and maximizing usage. Lund: Always reassure confidentiality with regard to any given company.
* Hopelessness – Feelings that, “Nothing will help me” or “I’ll never get better” are significant roadblocks to treatment. Lund: Showing empathy and reassurance is vital. It’s important to point out to the individual that in opening up, they have already taken the hardest step – that is, to begin. It gets easier from there.
* Practical obstacles – An inability to pay for treatment for financial reasons or lack of health insurance. Lund: Use an employee assistance program (EAP). An EAP can help find low-cost resources if there is no insurance. EAPs also offer financial counseling to assist with budgeting and planning. An employee’s health is worth it! (Since therapy is expensive, increasing mental health benefits can also help offset this barrier to treatment.)
There really is no excuse for employers to not be concerned about their employees’ mental health. Employers will benefit from happier, more productive employees. Employees are depending on employers to serve as a source of support. What are you waiting for?
Mike Jacquart edited and published the “Employee Assistance Report” newsletter, and he edited the “Journal of Employee Assistance” for EAPA. He has written about employee assistance and workplace topics and trends since 2004. Note: The statistics cited in this article were current when it was written, but they may not be completely
up to date.