Liz Sheffield

Should You Promote Annual Mental Health Checkups?

We all know that annual checkups are key to preventing serious illness. But if a yearly doctor’s visit is good for maintaining our physical health, where does that leave our mental health? Indeed, some have argued for regular mental health checkups as part of a holistic preventive care routine.

It’s no surprise that conditions like anxiety or depression can negatively impact the work environment for both employees and employers. Specifically, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points to increased absence, working while sick and employment turnover — all of which undermine productivity and increase costs. In fact, SHRM says that untreated mental illnesses are reported to cost over $100 billion every year in lost productivity.

Nor is mental illness a rare phenomenon. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost 20% of American adults experience some form of mental illness — like depression or anxiety — each year. And while mental health conditions may not be as noticeable as the flu, they can affect your employees’ physical health. Harvard Medical School, for example, notes that treating anxiety can help manage chronic diseases.

So, are mental health checkups a one-way ticket to impeccably immune employees and a flourishing business? No — but they do have an important role to play.

What Does a Mental Health Checkup Look Like?

A mental health checkup or screening is used to help diagnose issues. The results may indicate that someone would benefit from receiving care from a counselor or psychologist. During the checkup, a licensed health care provider can assess if someone has any symptoms, such as:

  • Extreme worry or fear.
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness, guilt or worthlessness.
  • Dramatic mood shifts.
  • Lack of energy or fatigue.

To diagnose issues, a health care provider will ask about changes in feelings, mood, behavioral patterns or other symptoms. Depending on the responses, the provider may request a blood test to find out if a physical issue could be causing the symptoms. If issues are present, there are many tools that can increase wellness, including exercise, medication, counseling and education.

Aside from the critical work of identifying behavioral problems before they take a bigger toll on your employees, these regular check-ins help take the sting out of the stigma around mental health and show that it’s a normal part of wellness. They also remind us that taking care of our mental health is an ongoing process that everybody needs to be mindful of.

How Can You Encourage Mental Health Checkups?

Employers play an important role in ensuring that employees have access to checkups and feel comfortable seeking treatment.

“As we recognize neurological and emotional diversity in all of its forms, workplace cultures need to make room for the wide range of emotions we experience,” according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). “We need to have the option to ask for help, and feel safe doing so … we need more flexibility, sensitivity, and open-mindedness from employers.”

HBR cites the We Care program at EY as an excellent example of employer-sponsored mental wellness education. The program’s purpose is to educate employees about issues, encourage them to seek help and to support colleagues who may be dealing with symptoms. The sessions cover a variety of topics. An essential part of the program is a kick off from a senior leader who shares their personal story. They also keep a health care provider present to offer support during the session.

Companies may also choose to offer care as part of their ongoing wellness program initiatives, including:

  • Free on-site counseling sessions for employees and family members.
  • Courses on mental health first aid.
  • Access to checkups and screening as part of preventive care in the benefits plan.
  • Online resources and tools which employees can access 24/7.

Employers can take a proactive approach to encourage workers to care for their mental well-being, just as they care for their physical health. When you remove the stigma around the topic with open and honest conversations, you make the topic less taboo, meaning that it’s more likely that employees will embrace the idea and seek out professional support. This emphasis on mental wellness and care will not only enhance employees’ careers and improve their daily lives — it will also benefit the work environment and community.

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