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7 Ways to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

According to the World Health Organization, over 300 million people in the workforce suffer from depression.

Depression is also a primary cause of disability in the workplace, and one of the main symptoms people experience is anxiety. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates the loss of revenue due to low productivity is over one trillion U.S. dollars per year. It's become profoundly clear that as a nation we need a deeper understanding of mental health conditions and employers must also be able to recognize and support employees who face mental health challenges. Increasing comprehension and awareness is the first step in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health illnesses.

Historically being in therapy and/or taking medication for a mental health condition has been viewed negatively in our society. The media sensationalizes mental breakdowns and places blame on the psychological status of an individual. It’s been rare for the public or the media to recognize that someone’s mental state is not just psychological but has to do with the whole person (mind and body), environment, biological and sociological conditions.

Unfortunately, this limited view serves only to further the stigma and causes those in treatment to fear anyone finding out, especially their employer. For example, we know depression stems from the gut. Serotonin is produced in our gut. If our microbiome is compromised or our system suffers from chronic inflammation, this can lead to depression. Not only does depression stem out of inflammation, so does Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Autism. Mental illness compromises our whole body.

By teaching and training employees about mental illness and highlighting how it is a condition like any other medical condition, you can greatly destigmatize mental illness within the organization. In order to address such a widespread problem, employers need to create a safe, judgement free environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing a mental health problem in themselves or another colleague and feel as though their employer is equipped to provide effective support.

Here are 7 steps employers can take in providing support to an employee experiencing mental health illness:

  1. Consult with Colleagues or Coworkers

    Speak with other individuals who may work closely with the employee exhibiting signs of mental distress to determine if the pattern of behavior has been noticed by others. When conducting these conversations, determine whether the pattern of behavior is disruptive or impacting job performance and always assure that confidentiality will be maintained.

  2. Gather Resources

    Before speaking with the employee, find out about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), look into referrals, available community resources, family/social support organizations as well as any medical and disability benefits that might be available. It’s essential for the employer to have local mental health emergency services readily available.

  3. Express Empathy and Support

    Setup a meeting with the employee and inquire about how she or he is doing. This is the time to exercise compassionate listening. Express concerns over noticed pattern of behavior you have observed and how this may be impacting employee’s productivity at work and personal life. Consider asking questions, such as inquiring, if there are stressors at work or personal life stressors that may be contributing to current mental illness. Assure employee confidentiality will be maintained.

  4. Inquire About Organizational Support

    Provide the employee with any resources that are available and strongly recommend that the employee contacts the EAP or doctor, schedules an appointment and obtains a referral to see a therapist.

  5. Outline Accommodations

    Find out if there are any accommodations the organization can provide to the employee. The accommodation(s) need to be realistic and reasonable; for example, the employee meets with a therapist twice a week. The organization would determine if the accommodation is reasonable and would allocate the time needed for the employee to attend sessions.

  6. Provide Assurance

    Assure the employee that support is provided and act on any concerns the employee has voiced. For example, maintaining confidentiality is primal to an employee experiencing a mental illness. By assuring confidentiality will be maintained permits the employee to feel safe, supported and develop trust. Employees generally feel supported by the organization when provided by resources, reasonable accommodations and communication is clear. Additionally, by reflecting and restating information, the employee has conveyed, assures the employee he or she is being heard and understood.

  7. Communicate the Long-Term Plan

    Clearly articulate to the employee the expectations and outcomes of the plan, ideally in writing. Make sure to include how the expectations will be measured. For example, the employee’s mental illness is impacting productivity, and the employee has agreed to seek out treatment from a medical doctor and psychotherapist. The physician will provide a biweekly status update on any progress made, and the organization will track any improvements as well as productivity. The plan should also include what would take place if these expectations are not met.

Because it’s not always obvious when an employee is experiencing mental distress, it is even more imperative to familiarize yourself and your employees with the warning signs of mental illness. Notably, each mental health condition has its own set of symptoms; however, there are common signs of mental illness to keep in mind. Increasing awareness, destigmatizing mental health conditions and initiating a positive change in an organization’s culture can be accomplished by aligning mental wellbeing with an organization’s health and wellbeing programs. Integration of mind and body wellbeing encourages healthy proactive steps employees can engage in, such as meditation and mindfulness, healthy nutrition and physical activities. Not only do these programs promote and positively impact physiological wellbeing, they profoundly impact mental wellbeing.

Encouragement and investment in any educational programs or initiatives are vital in creating a supportive work environment. Many people spend a significant portion of their waking life at work. As a result, it is essential for both a business and its employees to be supportive and encouraging of anyone that may need psychological services.

To learn more about mental health in the workplace, visit our Healthy People Blog, or consult with a OneDigital Strategist near you.