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Employee Mental Health

Mental illnesses are becoming increasingly common and affect everybody you know in one way or another. Do you want to be more comfortable talking about mental health with your employees? Let’s normalize discussing mental health as employers so you can offer guidance, empathy and much needed human kindness.

What Mental Health Challenges Are Employees Facing in the Workplace?

Employees are facing a variety of mental health challenges in the workplace today. Whether it has a well-known name like depression or a less known name like languishing, mental illnesses highly impact the way we live our lives. As the world changes so do mental illnesses and we should constantly be evaluating and improving our methods of helping employees address them.

  • Depression. The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. The APA also says that 16 million Americans are affected by depression every year and 50% of people with depression are untreated. Depression is one of the most frequent and well-known mental illnesses that can highly impact people’s personal and professional lives.
  • Anxiety. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States with over 40 million adults in the US experiencing an anxiety disorder. The APA defines anxiety as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. Many studies are showing an increase in anxiety, especially among younger generations. It is very prevalent in the workplace and can highly impact an employee’s performance and overall demeanor.
  • Burnout. Many people who suffer from burnout may not even recognize it. Burnout can be characterized as mental, emotional and physical exhaustion and is often caused by exorbitant stress levels. A few signs of burnout are feelings of exhaustion, depletion and negativity. Many employees work through burnout to hit deadlines, show dedication, accomplish goals, etc. Although it is more subtle than other forms of mental illness, it is unsurprisingly common and likely affects everyone at some point in their life.
  • Presenteeism. Presenteeism can be described as an employee showing up to work while mentally ill, which can result in a loss of productivity, an increase in mistakes, decreased attention to detail and more. Presenteeism isn’t as easily identifiable as absenteeism, though it is common because many employees would prefer to work through their mental illness, especially when it’s long lasting.
  • Languishing. Languishing is a newer term that describes a feeling many people experience but have a hard time defining. According to a New York Times article written by Adam Grant, “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.” Similar to presenteeism, languishing can affect many aspects of work. It’s not as extreme as other mental illnesses, but it may describe what so many employees feel from time to time that they desire to overcome.

Why Supporting Employee Mental Health Is So Important

So many people are affected by mental illnesses, yet an alarming amount don’t receive the support they need. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five US adults will experience mental health illness each year. According to estimates, half of the people with a mental illness won’t even receive treatment. A study done by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that nearly 40% of employees would try and cover up a mental health illness from their manager if they could.

As an employer, you want to show how much you truly and sincerely care about your employees. Not only does caring about your employees mental well-being create a better working environment, it can also help your company be more successful. Aside from the obvious reasons of why you should support employee mental health, there are many statistics that show the impact mental illnesses can have in the workplace.

  • Genuine concern for employee well-being. Supporting an employee’s mental health is a powerful way to show your genuine care for your people. Communicating this support not only shows that your company cares, it also educates employees on the resources available to them regarding mental health.
  • Productivity. Mental health illnesses can highly impact someone’s ability to be productive. According to the APA, workers experiencing unresolved depression are estimated to encounter a 35% drop in their productivity. Helping employees address their mental health concerns will support their ability to increase productivity, which, in turn, affects the organization.
  • Profits. Many aspects of mental health illnesses can affect profits. Aside from the direct costs a company pays to address the illness, loss of productivity and an increase in absenteeism will also affect the bottom line. According to the World Health Organization, “For every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity.” Thus, helping employees appropriately address their mental health illnesses can increase company profits.
  • Culture. Showing support for employee mental health will help create a culture of caring. Having the right company culture significantly impacts the work environment and, as a result, the quality of work produced. Additionally, a good company culture encourages employees to promote your company to others and can be a great strategy for obtaining new talent.

How To Support the Mental Health of Your Employees

There are a variety of ways employers can support the mental health of employees. However, each organization and employee is unique and should be treated as such. Some methods may have a more positive impact than others so it may take time to determine what’s best for your people. When establishing what’s best for your employees, be sure to continually ask for feedback to ensure you’re being impactful.

1. Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

SHRM defines an employee assistance program (EAP) as a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee’s performance.

EAPs traditionally have assisted workers with issues like alcohol or substance abuse. However, most EAPs now cover a broad range of issues, such as child or elder care, relationship challenges, financial or legal problems, wellness matters and traumatic events like workplace violence.

Many employers choose to use an EAP within their company. About 97% of companies with more than 5,000 employees have an EAP. However, about 5% of people with access to EAPs use them. Additionally, up to 40% of workers are unaware of whether their workplace provides an EAP and what services are available. If you choose to utilize an EAP, make sure to continually communicate its services to employees.

2. Create a Safe Space

One of the best things you can do for your employees is create a safe space for them to talk. As a highly sensitive topic, mental health is something that many people don’t feel comfortable talking about. Discussing important topics like this with others creates a much needed sense of community and encourages self help.

Another way to create a safe space is to lead by example. Not everyone has to publicize their mental health illness, but those who do feel comfortable sharing how they got help can show how common mental illness is and how accessible help is. This would be a great avenue to promote what resources your company provides.

3. Gather Feedback

Every person is different. What helps one employee cope with their mental illness might not help another. Additionally, each company is different and how they offer support may vary. How are you supposed to know what your employees need unless you ask them? Gather feedback about what current resources are utilized, what would make them better and what additional resources are needed. When gathering feedback, reinforce that you truly care about your employee’s mental health.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employee Mental Health

How can I find out if an employee is struggling?
Mental health is a sensitive topic and needs to be handled appropriately. Education and communication are key. You can offer training materials to all employees, as well as a specific training for managers, to learn about mental health and how to identify the signs of a struggling co-worker. It’s important to learn how to do this from a professional as this is a delicate topic. Be sincere in your communication and show genuine desire to help employees and offer a safe space for them to speak up. Additionally, make sure you have a defined process in place for how to address the needs of a struggling employee when situations arise.
Where can I learn more about how to help employees with their mental health?
The American Psychiatric Association is known for being a leading resource for workplace mental health. As a credible source, their website would be one of many appropriate resources to learn more about how to help employees with their mental health. Click here (https://workplacementalhealth.org/) to view their website.
Natalie De Spain

Natalie De Spain

Natalie graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management in 2020. Following her schooling, she completed an additional HR internship and is currently an Associate HR Operations Specialist. She loves working in HR and fully intends to further her education alongside her career.

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