Supporting employees’ long-term mental health needs

Ongoing mental health support for employees is key for long-term health. You can help by de-stigmatizing mental health issues, sharing resources, and watching for warning signs of mental illness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put mental health in the forefront—and we shouldn’t expect these struggles to abate quickly. Historically, global traumatic events have long-term impacts on mental health, including an increase in suicide rates. A recent State of the Nation’s Mental Health report shows one in four adults reporting anxiety or depression in 2020—up from one in 10 during 2019. And yet, in the same year, treatment for mental health across many age groups has decreased.

It is imperative to acknowledge and provide resources for long-term mental health even as we move toward a recovery phrase of the pandemic. This can include open conversations about mental health and checking on those closest to us. But employers also have a unique opportunity to provide support to their workforce.

One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a year. Depression – one of the most common mental health illnesses – causes significantly reduced work productivity and increased healthcare and disability use. Prioritizing mental health during seemingly less stressful times can boost employee productivity and loyalty.

To serve your employees’ long-term mental health needs:

  • Walk the talk by de-stigmatizing mental health issues.
  • Regularly share information about a broad range of mental health resources.
  • Know the warning signs of mental illness.

De-stigmatizing mental health issues

Mental health stigma is still a major challenge in the workplace. Just over half of workers say they are at least somewhat comfortable discussing mental health openly with coworkers and supervisors. However, only about one in five are completely comfortable doing so.

Increasing awareness and having positive conversations about mental health can help destigmatize this invisible illness.

Actions speak louder than words, though. If your company’s policies do not support mental health needs, employees may sense mixed messages. Policies to support mental healthcare may include:

  • Flexible sick leave or other time off for appointments.
  • Private spaces in the office for employees to take care of mental health needs.
  • Benefits that cover mental health services.

Resources for long-term mental healthcare

More than 25% of workers are uncertain about how to access mental healthcare through their employer, according to a American Psychiatric Association poll.

Mental health resources should be available through many channels and throughout the year. Review how you communicate other important information and consider how you can include mental health resources as well.

Include information about a variety of mental health resources. This can help employees find the approach that works best for them. Some may prefer one-on-one support through a therapist, others may find support groups more helpful, and others may want online options.

If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program, find out if the counseling providers are also in-network through your health plan. This helps those who need ongoing care continue with the provider with whom they have established a relationship.

Many telehealth companies now have mental health professionals available for online therapy visits. This can make access faster and easier, since the visits can be done anywhere with internet connection and privacy. Some companies offer mental health support via text messages and smartphone apps too.

Local organizations can connect employees with support groups, low-cost counseling, and other resources. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and others have local chapters or affiliates.

If your area has a university or medical school, they may offer reduced-rate mental health services and research studies or clinical trials.

Know the signs of mental illness
Just as it is important to be aware of symptoms of physical illness in your employees, it is also important to keep an eye out for mental health signals.

Here are some signs to look for:

  • Sleep or appetite changes
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty with functioning in work, school, or social activities
  • Withdrawal or apathy
  • Problems with concentrating, memory, or logic
  • Increased sensitivity or irritation

Do not be afraid to ask people how they are doing and really listen. You do not have to solve the issue – sometimes people just need a safe place to share what they are going through.

If an employee seems to be struggling, be discrete and non-judgmental. Ask how you can help and be ready to share resources without implying that the employee must use them.

Remember, mental health is health. Physical and mental health are linked and must be addressed in tandem for overall, whole-person health. You want your employees to thrive, and mental health support is part of helping them do their best work. If you offer and communicate a broad range of resources, employees will know where to turn when they need help.

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