With 44 million Americans suffering from some form of mental condition, and much of their daily life spent at work, companies have a critical role to play in the mental health crisis. And, to the relief of those Americans who struggle with their mental health, companies are beginning to embrace this role, recognizing the overwhelming benefits of prioritizing mental health for the greater good of their workforce.
After all, mental health isn’t just a challenge for individuals outside the office. Some of the most common mental conditions such as depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder can have a severe negative affect on an employee’s performance at work. And when left unchecked, these mental conditions can increase employees’ healthcare claims and lower their productivity.
According to a recent survey by my company, Total Brain, about a third of 18-to 54-year-olds say anxiety or depression causes them to be mentally unproductive at work. Another recent study by the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable found the health and productivity cost to employers of the mental health crisis is over $17,000 per treated employee per year. These statistics are staggering.
The good news is that our mental health can be measured, improved and managed in the same way as our physical health.
The reality is, we are all on a mental health continuum. At one end, are those of us who are perfectly healthy and performing at our peak. At the other end are those of us challenged with a mental condition. And in between, sit the majority of us who are not clinically diagnosable, but also not performing at our best.
Once you understand that we are all on a continuum, with our position constantly changing based on life events, you begin to understand the widespread nature of the issue. You also being to realize that some things within your control are likely contributing factors. For example, a stressful work environment can be an incubator for anxiety and depression.
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So, while it can take time and commitment to build and maintain mental health wellness changes within an organization, making the shift to a more positive environment that seeks to mitigate stress is a great place to start. From there, corporate wellness programs need to have a definitive focus on mental health. Providing tools such as digital apps to assess mental health, confidentially screen for common mental conditions and offer pathways to treatment can be quite effective. Such pathways could entail digital training, referral to mental health support services or both. These are just some essential tools for ensuring that employees achieve and maintain good mental health.
Set the example
Actions always speak louder than words. Senior leaders and HR executives need to champion any meaningful mental health initiatives and lead by example. While senior leadership must grow revenue, it’s equally important to foster a caring culture for an employee’s overall wellbeing, particularly since we now know the two are linked. Recognizing, for example, that invisible illnesses such as depression are as legitimate as physical ailments, and both may require time away from the office, are important steps.
By committing to changes like this, and continuing to support those changes along the way through available communication channels, a solid model for improving morale, increasing productivity and improving overall mental health and wellbeing will emerge.