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Mental Health Matters in the WorkplaceMichelangelo had obsessive-compulsive disorder. Sir Isaac Newton was bipolar and depressed. Abraham Lincoln was known to have depressive episodes and anxiety attacks. Winston Churchill accomplished all that he did with bipolar disorder and dyslexia. Princess Diana was depressed and bulimic, and Leonardo DiCaprio has OCD.

Your mental health — just like your physical health — is an integral part of who you are. Mental illness does not discriminate. Mental health issues can impact anyone at any time. And, unfortunately, we don’t get to leave them at home when we go to work. As exemplified above, just because you have mental issues, doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.

According to the National Institute Of Mental Health, about one in four adults or 26.2 percent of Americans age 18 or older suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. One person out of 17 lives with a chronic serious mental illness. Almost half of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosed mental health disorder at some point in their life.

Mental Health Impacts the Bottom Line

We know that a work environment that recognizes and supports mental health benefits the people that work there. Surprisingly, it also benefits businesses in ways that can directly impact the bottom line. Absenteeism, disability, accidents, turn over and lost productivity related to mental disorders cost businesses money. Mental health-related issues cost employers roughly more than four times the cost of employee medical treatment. In corporate America, this totals around $105 billion annually, according to research by Harvard University Medical School.

A report published by The Center for Prevention and Health Services stated that more than 200 million workdays are lost each year because of mental disorders. Depression is the most prevalent mental health condition affecting the workplace. Depression costs companies $44 billion per year in lost productivity according to The Journal of the American Medical Association. Even after taking other health risks, like smoking and obesity, into account, employees at high risk of depression had the highest health care costs during a three year period following an assessment according to one study.

It just makes good business sense for workplaces to address, accommodate, and support the mental health of their employees.

A Mental Health-Friendly Workplace Is Good for People and Business

An analysis from Deloitte Insights calculated the return on investment of workplace mental health programs at various stages of maturity. It found that for every $1 invested in workplace mental health, the median yearly return was $1.62. That figure rises to $2.18 for programs that have been in place for three years or more.

A work environment that supports and promotes wellness could result in:

  • Higher productivity and motivation – Employees feel valued and secure and work more efficiently when employers demonstrate a commitment to their well-being.
  • Reduced absenteeism – Workplace stress is a major cause of absenteeism. Helping employees manage their stress and overall mental health can boost productivity.
  • Health insurance cost containment – Instituting health and wellness programs can prevent health insurance rate increases.
  • Quicker recovery from disaster – In the event of a local trauma, assisting employees with counseling, peer support, and connection to community services can help businesses become productive again faster.
  • Loyalty and retention. – Businesses with environments encouraging employee mental health have documented lower turnover rates and can experience cost savings in recruitment, new employee orientation, and training.
  • Better workplace relations – Awareness and support of mental health issues can help create a positive work climate for understanding, cooperation, and conflict resolution.
  • Diversity, acceptance, and respect – Embracing diversity means including people who live with mental illnesses. By becoming more inclusive, businesses can both thrive and be a positive example in their industry and community.

A Proactive Approach Towards Mental Wellness Is Key

One of the key points of the Deloitte study was that companies and employees are best served when employers go beyond just providing resources to treat problems when they arise, and instead invest in proactive programs to promote and support good mental health on an ongoing basis. For example, an employer could make changes to reduce the stress specific to a particular job or start wellness programs encouraging staff to exercise or meditate.

It’s not uncommon for a person to spend more time at work than anywhere else. The workplace can be a key influencer and provider of activities designed to improve the mental and physical health of the people that work there. Workplace wellness programs can teach self-help practices and put support systems in place to aid people in reducing and managing stress, anxiety, and depression. They can also identify vulnerable individuals at risk and connect them to treatment solutions. By addressing mental health issues in the workplace, employers can reduce health care costs for their businesses and employees.

Mental Health Matters in the Workplace

What Does A Mental Health-Friendly Workplace Look Like?

So, we all agree that workplaces should be more supportive, but what exactly does that entail? Businesses that value the mental health of their employees have practices and policies in place that encourage wellness. Assistance is readily available. A mentally healthy work environment can be accomplished no matter what size the company is. It doesn’t have to require spending a bunch of money. It requires adopting a certain set of attitudes.

Per Mental Health America, this is what a mental health-friendly workplace would look like:

  • Welcomes all qualified job applicants; values diversity.
  • Includes health care that treats mental illnesses with the same urgency as physical illnesses.
  • Has programs and practices that promote and support employee health-wellness and work-life balance.
  • Provides training for managers and front-line supervisors in mental health workplace issues, including identification of performance problems that may indicate worker distress and the possible need for referral and evaluation.
  • Safeguards the confidentiality of employee health information.
  • Provides an Employee Assistance Program or other appropriate referral resources to assist managers and employees.
  • Supports employees who seek treatment or who require hospitalization and disability leave, including re-entry into work.
  • Ensures “exit with dignity” as a corporate priority, should it become essential for an employee to leave employment.
  • Provides all-employee communication regarding equal opportunity employment, the reasonable accommodations policy of the Americans with Disabilities Act, health and wellness programs, and similar topics that promote an accepting, antistigmatizing, anti-discriminating climate in the workplace.

Rights in the Workplace Regarding Your Mental Health

Ideally, the same protections are available to a person with a mental health condition as with a physical medical condition. Your employer has a legal obligation to do anything necessary to accommodate your condition. You have the right to keep your condition private. We all know that’s not how it works sometimes, unfortunately.

As an employee, your primary protection against workplace harassment and discrimination as a result of a disability, mental or physical, is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The ADA defines a disability as any of the following:

  • having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, which include basic tasks such as lifting, walking, eating, caring for oneself, regulating emotions, thinking, concentrating, sleeping, and communicating with others;
  • having a record of such an impairment; or
  • or being regarded as having such an impairment.

Despite having an ADA-recognized disability, an employee must also be “otherwise qualified” for the job. The article, Mental Health Issues at Work: 5 Things Employees Need to Know, explains it like this:

Basically, if you have a mental health issue that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and your employer can provide reasonable accommodations, then you will be protected by the ADA and enjoy the same work-related rights and opportunities as any other employee.

To make sure these rights are honored and protected, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) publishes guidance and references to help employees and employers understand their rights and responsibilities. Late last year, the EEOC released an online publication, ‘Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Your Legal Rights,‘ in response to the increasing prevalence of workplace disability discrimination involving mental health issues.”

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  1. Your first paragraph caught my attention Debbie. It’s fascinating to read about people we’ve all heard of who managed to succeed in their field whilst managing their mental health. I’m sure what you have written will be helpful to many who might personally be experiencing similar challenges or who have family members or friends who are.

    Thank you for all the good you put out into our world.

  2. Debbie, I was surprised too read about the mental health challenges of these successful individuals. It gives you hope doesn’t it? Hope along with the tools and information you share here can make a big difference in the quality of our work life.

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