Let the Numbers Speak for Themselves
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports the following statistics:
- 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
- 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
- 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
Those are staggering statistics with far-reaching consequences as mental illness causes a ripple effect impacting almost every segment of society. Those with a mental illness have an increased risk of other serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and substance abuse resulting in rising medical costs, increased need for caregivers and increased use of sick days. NAMI reports serious mental illness causes $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year across the U.S. economy.
Fortunately, mental health advocacy is gaining momentum worldwide and has become a priority among human resource management in the U.S. The workplace is the perfect forum for addressing mental health issues for many reasons. A communication medium is already in place, social support networks in the form of coworkers are present and employers can offer incentives to encourage employees to engage in healthy behaviors.
Lead by Example
In the workplace, mental illness remains a largely taboo subject. According to a 2019 study by Businessolver, a West Des Moines, Iowa-based health benefits administrator, 68% of employees worry that reaching out to a supervisor or human resources about a mental health issue could negatively impact their job security. One way to combat the stigma attached to mental health issues in the workplace is for corporate leadership to drive culture change by talking about mental health and reinforcing the view that good mental health is the same as good physical health. When the top brass is seen to care about the issue and personally support staff facing mental health issues, then employees will follow suit and everything sort of falls into place. In other words, by setting a good example for others, leadership can be the catalyst that de-stigmatizes mental health issues in the workplace.
Go to Time Out
In this case, a time out is a good thing! By creating opportunities and physical spaces for employees to disengage from workplace stresses and focus on mindfulness, employers are encouraging a better work-life balance and hopefully mental health. Companies like Salesforce, Google, Yahoo, Nike, Pearson, and HBO are leading the way by adding designated official meditation spaces in their corporate offices. A study conducted by The Permanente Journal found that meditation reduces workplace stress and helps develop EQ (emotional quotient) competencies such as centeredness, self-awareness and empathy. According to Harvard research, meditation helps sick employees with, “an array of conditions both physical and mental, including irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.” A designated space can be nothing more than a meeting room with some basic, comfortable furniture. Or, depending upon resources, the space might have mood lighting, built-in speakers for playing soft music and recliners for speed napping.
Invest in Education
Along this journey towards normalizing mental health issues, training becomes imperative. All employees, especially managers, need to know how to recognize and navigate mental health at work. This is not to say managers should act like therapists, but rather have a baseline knowledge of mental health conditions, and how to recognize and respond to them in the workplace. Employees know where to go and how to get a band-aid or aspirin when a co-worker needs it, but do they know where to go and how to get a coworker assistance with a mental health issue?
Mental Health First Aid, brought to the U.S. in 2008 by the National Council for Behavioral Health, trains participants on the signs and symptoms of specific illnesses like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addictions to encourage early detection and intervention. The program offers concrete tools and answers key questions like “What can I do?” and “Where can someone find help?” This type of training creates an awareness of mental health conditions and equips participants with the tools needed to recognize and respond to employees who may be struggling.
Knowledge is Power
Companies can make readily available information about mental health resources like crisis support hotlines such the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and information on advocacy groups like National Alliance on Mental Illness. Sharing this information with employees conveys that asking for help is acceptable and encouraged, and that no one has to suffer in silence or alone.
It’s the Law
Mental health conditions are considered a disability and covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means an employer must make a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a mental health condition if needed to perform the essential functions of the employee’s job. It is incumbent upon the employee to disclose a mental health condition to his/her employer and request a needed accommodation. Once an employee discloses a mental health condition and requests an accommodation, an employer has a legal obligation to engage in a dialogue with the employee about a possible accommodation that might work. An employer does not have to provide the exact accommodation requested if another accommodation allows for the same result.
Get Smart HR
Whether you want to explore ways as an employer to destigmatize mental health conditions in your workplace or need assistance handling a request for a reasonable accommodation, Smart HR is your one-stop shop. Our consultants have assisted clients with ADA compliance, drafting reasonable accommodation policies and implementing effective work-life balance programs. Get smart and call Smart HR today.