Patricia Chaney

How to Support Employee Mental Health in the Workplace

Depression and other mental health illnesses have a serious impact on your business. Knowing employees may be suffering from mental illness can be devastating, and then there are the financial implications. Keeping tabs on mental health in the workplace and finding ways to support employees can help rein in health costs and improve productivity.

A recent analysis by the American Psychiatric Association Foundation found that about 7 percent of American workers have depression. That translates into $210.5 billion per year in total costs. But what exactly should you do with those numbers as an employer?

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Costs of Depression

Estimates of what a health condition costs the economy usually include direct medical expenses as well as loss from missed work, lowered productivity at work or even job loss. Nearly half of the $210.5 billion mentioned above is attributed to workplace absenteeism and presenteeism. Presenteeism refers to employees showing up to work without engaging productively there.

Compounding the issue is the fact that individuals with depression are at a higher risk for other serious conditions. This includes mental health conditions like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. But individuals with depression also face an increased risk of physical issues like chronic pain and cardiovascular problems. Further illness increases medical costs for employees and leads to more time off for appointments and sick days.

What Depression Looks Like in the Workplace

Everyone has bad days and rough patches that can cause them to be a little distracted or disengaged at work. Everyone also has times when stress runs high, whether for personal or professional reasons. But depression is a persistent illness, and symptoms tend to stick around rather than come and go. Symptoms that may affect work performance include:

  • Pessimism or hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue or diminished energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Trouble making decisions

What Employers Can Do

Depression still carries a stigma for many people. Mental health in the workplace is often a taboo subject in general, and people worry about what effect seeking treatment will have on their employment. This may help explain why fewer than half of people with depression seek mental health services. Yet treatment is the best way to improve mood and get back to a healthy, productive place.

So what role can employers play in helping employees as they contend with depression? Depending on the size of your company and the resources available, you have several options.

  • Encourage openness and acceptance. This doesn’t mean you’re asking employees to come forward and confess their mental health condition. But supervisors can demonstrate a level of acceptance for employees who have depression.
  • Raise awareness. Teaching people about depression and how to get treatment can help reduce stigma and give employees a path toward recovery. Considering having mental health awareness days or simply share information through employee newsletters and emails. Let people know the symptoms and effects of depression, as well as the relevant covered services.
  • Provide human resources support. The HR department can maintain a list of resources or in-network mental health providers to share with employees, as well as numbers for crisis-intervention lines.
  • Offer confidential services. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) offer services to employees that can help people identify and resolve personal and mental health issues.
  • Change the culture. Mental health in the workplace is influenced by the environment and culture. Some risk factors for depression at work include feeling out of control (job strain), lack of work-life balance, discrimination or harassment and job insecurity. Addressing any of these factors allows employees to feel more comfortable at work and supports better mental health.

Developing a supportive environment and reducing the stigma surrounding depression are two of the best ways to help employees’ mental health in the workplace. You may not be able to prevent all issues, but encouraging people to get treatment can really help maintain productivity and reduce health care costs.

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This content is provided solely for informational purposes. It is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein should not be relied upon or used as a substitute for consultation with legal, accounting, tax and/or other professional advisers.