With one out of four Americans experiencing some type of mental illness every year, mental health awareness is vital for any business. Human resource professionals play a big part in getting company leadership to understand the importance of mental health by explaining how improving it can benefit both employees and the company as a whole. Once executives understand why mental health should be a priority, they can move on to brainstorming how to encourage employees to take advantage of the resources the company offers.

Why Mental Health Is a Priority

The most convincing argument for the importance of mental health is simply pointing out how psychologically healthy employees improve a business’s bottom line. For example, an Employee Benefit News survey found that 31 percent of respondents chose mental health as the main cause of lost productivity at work. Chronic stress at work leads to more severe problems, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression, meanwhile, increase a person’s risk of heart disease and other physical ailments.

But mental health doesn’t just decrease productivity and lead to physical problems. Mental health struggles actually cost businesses money. The Disability Management Employer Coalition found that mental health and substance abuse disorders rank as the fifth major cause of long-term disability and the third main cause of short-term disability. Depression by itself causes employees to miss, on average, 4.8 days of work every three months. Over the course of a year, the missed days add up to billions of dollars’ worth of lost productivity. All these stats make a strong argument to any business leader on the need for mental health awareness.

The Importance of Speaking Up

Reducing stress is a huge step in improving employees’ collective mental health. Executives, with the help of communication helmed by the HR team, should foster an atmosphere where overwhelmed employees feel like they can seek help without any fear of getting in trouble. This further highlights why leaders need to be the ones to speak up. Employees may only feel comfortable being honest about their struggles if top-level employees remove any stigma and assure that openly seeking help won’t put an employee’s job or promotion at risk.

Executives should host meetings, hold seminars led by trained counselors or provide brochures that talk about the services offered, what employees can do to get help and signs that someone may be dealing with too much stress. Talking openly and honestly about why mental health is important helps employees remember to stay cognizant of their own well-being and look out for their peers.

Key Services to Offer

What are some tangible services your company can provide to help with mental health at work? Here are some ideas:

  • Make sure that mental health benefits are part of your company’s health insurance plans. Talk about these benefits during new-employee orientations.
  • Offer employee assistance programs, which give employees free confidential counseling and help.
  • Clearly define employee responsibilities, because vague job descriptions can lead to stress.
  • Accommodate stressed employees. This varies depending on the company and position, but adapted work stations, flex time and telecommuting opportunities can be appropriate stress reducers.
  • Give generous sick benefits, including allowing employees time to care for sick family members.
  • Schedule on-site yoga and meditation classes, which may help reduce stress and improve sleep.

There are many ways for employers to improve mental health in the workplace, and HR professionals can help this by educating employers about the risks that depression and other mental illnesses harbor. A good HR employee will also teach executives how to recognize the signs of mental struggle in employees. By developing widespread awareness and providing employees with nonintimidating ways to seek the care they need, employers will make a huge difference in improving mental health at work.

Stephanie Dwilson has extensive experience providing expertise on topics including health, law and marketing. She’s a science journalist published by Fox News, a marketing expert and an attorney with expertise in personal injury law. She’s also a small business expert featured by Businessweek and Millionaire Blueprints magazine and has worked as a marketing consultant for ministries and as a PR lead for one of the largest churches in America.