Mental Illness & Its Impact on Employees

Mental Health in the workplace has been a long-time taboo topic of conversation. Historically, there has been a divide between work life and personal life. Employers expect that employees check their personal issues at the front door and an employee perception exists that employers think their workers are robots with no lives outside of work. There is no denying that it is imperative for employees to show up to work ready to contribute, but with mental health issues on the rise, emotional wellbeing and mental health is on the forefront of leaderships’ minds given the impact that it can have on employees and a company’s bottom line.

How You Think is How You Feel

One in five American adults experience mental illness at some point in their life. Eight-teen percent of American adult employees have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and about 7% of American adults have been diagnosed with depression. Many cases of depression go undiagnosed and without treatment making depression the leading cause of disability in America (NAMI, 2019 and The American’s Disability Act National Network, 2018). In fact, antidepressant use has increased from 2011-2014 from 7.7% to 12.7%, respectively, and 25% of those on antidepressants reported using them for 10 or more years (CDC, 2017).

Mental health issues can cause absenteeism, loss of productivity, increased risk of accidents, the inability to think clearly or concentrate, increased risk of impulsive decision making or the need for constant reassurance of ones work. Not only that, but mental illness is also associated with increased risk of chronic morbidities such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, as well as poor behavioral health habits like substance use/abuse, smoking and sub-par dietary choices (National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Council, 2006).

With all of that said, it is clear that poor mental health can negatively impact an organizations culture, but can also lead to increased health care costs. According to Harvard, the literature on mental health problems in the workplace suggests  if more workers who need treatment were able to receive it, the personal toll on individuals and the costs placed one organizations could be reduced. Unfortunately, mental health treatment has become a luxury due to issues of access that are plaguing the mental health system, suggesting that employers begin to think of mental health care as an investment that’s worth the up-front time and cost to save thousands on the back end.

What You Can Do to Overcome Mental Health Barriers

In speaking with several mental health platforms that offer on-demand therapy such as TalkspaceSpringHealth and ModernHealth, same barriers to treatment come up. Awareness, stigma and access. First, people are unaware that there are treatment options available to them. Whether that be lack of awareness that they are struggling, lack of awareness of an existing EAP program or lack of awareness of how to navigate the mental health system. Second, there is a negative stigma placed on mental health, from blame to shame.

There is also fear that employers may consider employees with mental health issues incompetent, unreliable and a real fear of being fired. Third, there is an issue of access to mental health providers, meaning that finding an in-network provider is challenging. The wait time for an appointment could be weeks to months, leaving out-of network providers as an only option which becomes expensive, with out-of-pocket costs anywhere between $150-$250 per session. With all of these barriers interacting with each other, many adult workers who need and would benefit from treatment continue on without it.

Whether an employee experiences mental health issues personally or is the caregiver of someone with mental illness, the impact that both can have should get leaders thinking about what they can do to support their employees mental and emotional wellbeing.

If you’re thinking that supporting the mental health of your employees is valuable, there are a few things you can do:

1. Establish mental health and wellbeing as core assets of your organization by creating a culture that values authenticity and openness and makes employees feel safe, seen and trusted. This starts from the top, down.

2. Include mental health in diversity and inclusion strategies.

3. Support the development of compassionate and effective line management relationships by providing opportunities for managers to attend relevant training to support staff living with mental health problems and the wellbeing of all staff in general.

4. Communicate and market all mental health offerings that are available to employees on a consistent basis so that they have access to tools and resources. This may include an EAP program, on-demand tele-therapy benefits through insurance or an in-network provider list.

5. Consider providing mental health benefits as part of your benefits package through online and on-demand tele-therapy platforms that allow employees access to mental health providers over the telephone, video call or text. This type of benefit removes the barrier of access because appointments can be made more quickly through preferred network providers, is convenient because employees don’t have to physically go to an office or use PTO to attend visits, and reduces insurance claims. If you’re not ready to offer this benefit, many platforms provide direct to consumer services as well.

Many business leaders assume that an employee’s mental health is none of their business and they don’t want to get involved, but the truth is, employers can support their employees by providing tools and resources. Employers offer mental health benefits and emotional wellbeing support can leverage these opportunities for employee recruitment, engagement and retention, as well as for positively impacting their bottomline.

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