Mental health is a major health concern in the U.S., with millions of Americans suffering from anxiety, stress, depression and other debilitating mental and emotional conditions. The workplace may not seem like an appropriate place to address mental health, but employers can actually have a very positive impact on encouraging people to reach out and get the help they need.
- Normalize the conversation.
Unfortunately, says Emily Mendez of On the Wagon, a substance abuse and mental health center, many people don’t seek treatment for mental problems due to the social stigma surrounding them. In many ways, mental health is still considered a topic to be hidden in the closet and not talked about. Employers can help begin to erase the stigma and support mental health in the workplace by normalizing the conversation.
According to Licensed Professional Counselor Kelly Morrow-Baez of FitShrink, one of the best ways to do that is by making it part of the overall health and wellness discussion. Instead of talking about mental health as a separate topic, make it part of the conversation when discussing exercise, diet, wellness, stress reduction and other aspects of employee health.
Employers can also help normalize mental health by offering wellness initiatives that target mental and emotional wellness. Many currently do this for physical fitness and wellbeing. By making mental and emotional wellness part of the conversation, and offering programs to support both, employers can increase the likelihood that workers will take steps for mental and emotional self-care when needed.
- Educate employees about mental health.
Employers typically provide education to employees on a wide variety of subjects, from on-the-job training to workshops on personal finance, time management and other personal growth issues. To help employees learn more about mental health, Licensed Counselor Tiffany Hutchins of Trinity Counseling recommends employers email mental health materials to employees, such as the warning signs of stress, anxiety and depression and what to do about them, and provide information about how to get in contact with mental health professionals when necessary.
Dr. Dori Gatter, a practicing psychotherapist and relationship expert, encourages employers to Invite mental health and wellness experts to speak at company meetings, training seminars or other events. This can include bringing in local therapists for “lunch and learn” sessions that teach employees how to reduce stress and anxiety or how to resolve conflicts.
To reduce stress, Licensed Clinical Social Worker Raffi Bilek of the Baltimore Therapy Center says employers should let employees know they are not expected to be on call 24/7. These days, people feel enormous pressure to respond immediately to texts and e-mails at any time of day or night. Setting clear boundaries about when and where to respond to these communications can help employees reduce stress and strike a healthier work-life balance.
- Offer EAP Services
Sheina Schochet, a Mental Health Counselor at Thrive and Shine Wellness, encourages employers to offer Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs), which typically provide employees with a number of no-cost phone or in-person counseling sessions. Once the prescribed number of sessions is up, employees can choose to continue meeting with the counselor/therapist and pay for it through their health care plan.
Employees often forget about this benefit since it is rarely discussed. Regular communication about company-sponsored EAPs can help keep them top of mind for employees who could benefit from these services.
- Offer Gym Memberships and Wellness Incentives
There is a lot of research supporting the positive link between regular exercise and good mental health. Exercise reduces stress, produces endorphins (the “feel good” brain chemicals), and promotes physical and mental well-being says Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Allison Gervais of Marin Mental Wellness. Employers can offer free gym memberships as part of their benefits plan, as well as weight-loss, stop smoking and other programs to promote fitness and healthy lifestyles.
- Encourage Self-Care
Cara Maksimow, Licensed Clinical Therapist at Maximize Wellness, believes employers can encourage self-care in many different ways, including offering paid sick time for mental and emotional health.
Hutchins suggests putting massage chairs and relaxing music in the break room, conducting an annual health fair that includes mental health professionals, encouraging “walk at lunch” groups. She also believes employers and employees can benefit from having mental health professionals evaluate the company’s current mental health culture and implement strategies for improvement
Most of all, create an open and supportive work environment that facilitates growth, improvement, and accomplishment; one where employees feel valued, listened to and understood.
Everyone Benefits from Mental Health in the Workplace
Supporting mental health for employees isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good business. When workers feel tense, upset, depressed, stressed, or that job expectations are too high, productivity and morale plummet. Many start looking for another place to work. Anxiety and stress also create physical illness, which can increase visits to the doctor and raise company health care premiums.
Conversely, when workers feel like management cares about them as people, and the company provides the resources to succeed on the job without undue stress, people look forward to coming to work. They bring more energy and enthusiasm to their jobs, and spend more time-solving problems rather than complaining about them. Productivity increases. Conflict decreases. People feel safe in reaching out to ask for help when they need it. Ultimately, the company grows and prospers.
Clearly, supporting mental health in the workplace is in everyone’s best interests. Make it a part of your company’s culture and your employees – and your business – will reap the rewards.