MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE: A POORLY MANAGED ISSUE

By October 5, 2016Blog

More data about mental health issues in the workplace was released this week by a public private partnership in the United Kingdom. The report, Mental Health at Work Report 2016, is just the latest piece of data showing that employers around the world, including the United States, are facing real problems dealing with the mental health issues of their employees.

The UK report is just another piece of statistical data that strengthens the notion that employers need a better approach to address the mental health of today’s workers. The UK report found that:

  • 77% of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health at some point in their lives
  • 29% of employees have been diagnosed with a mental health condition
  • 62% of employees attributed their symptoms of poor mental health to work or said that work was a contributing factor
  • 35% of employees did not approach anyone for support the last time they experienced poor mental health
  • Only 11% of employees discussed a recent mental health problem with their manager
  • 9% of employees who experienced symptoms of poor mental health experienced disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal

“Employers have a duty of care to respond to their employees’ mental health needs in the same way they respond to physical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes. And it makes compelling business sense,” stated Professor Dame Carol Black, Senior policy advisor on work and health to the British Government. “Mental health problems are one of the main reasons why people cannot give their best at work. They have an adverse impact on productivity and affect recruitment and retention of skilled and experienced employees. Mental ill health has a profound impact on the economy.”

Mental Health America (MHA), a nonprofit dedicated to helping Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives, has produced a check list of characteristics that should be present in the workplace to better support the wellness of employees. The list includes:

  1. Productive Atmosphere. Clean, functional and well-lit space. Good working relationship with all staff. Employees feel respected, appreciated, incentivized, and rewarded. Signs of intimidation, bullying, sexual harassment, and fear are absent.
  2. Livable wage. Providing a livable wage encourages a committed and sustained workforce.
  3. Reasonable accommodation. Employers and employees have to work collaboratively to identify reasonable accommodations (not special treatment) in the workplace for physical as well as mental disabilities. From changing physical work space and schedule to the use of interpreters or technologically adapted equipment, it can run the gamut.
  4. Health, Wellness, & Environment. Provide a comprehensive health insurance plan including smoking-cessation, weight-loss, and substance abuse programs.
  5. Open Communication. Keep the communication process transparent. Creating an environment of open communication contributes to a more energetic and productive workforce where all employees can feel invested in the company.

MHA also has a resource of mental health screening tools as well as other resources for those experience mental health issues.

“The sheer volume of individuals seeking mental health screening and supports is astonishing,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA. “But when you couple this volume with these facts – that the depression screening tool is the most common screening tool they use; that most depression screeners are young; that two in every five depression screeners have severe depression; and that the majority of people coming to our screening program have never been diagnosed with a mental health condition—this is a national wake-up call. We must demand better mental health services—practitioners, employers, and educators need to offer mental health screening to all children and adults and policy makers must pass meaningful mental health reform legislation that emphasizes earlier detection and integrated services for recovery.”

All the data and studies point to a few key needs in the workplace. First, employers need to offer and then better educate their employees about available mental health resources – whether through medical coverages and/or wellness programs. Second, managers need dedicated training to identify and handle mental health issues appropriately. Appropriately for the health of the organization, while respecting the rights and needs of the employees. Lastly, employers need to create environments were mental health issues are not stigmatized but understood to be serious and common human conditions.

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