Wellness is more than the absence of disease. Our overall well-being involves a holistic approach, encompassing physical, mental, emotional, social, financial and spiritual health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” It is estimated that only 17% of U.S adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 22.1% of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, with depression being the most common type. Studies from the World Health Organization have shown the increasing prevalence of anxiety and other disorders. In fact, depression is often cited as one of the leading causes of lost workplace productivity and increased absenteeism and presenteeism, while leading to increased medical, prescription and disability costs.

Research from a variety of sources often shows that positive mental health is associated with improved health outcomes. For example, stress, depression and anxiety are often related to the occurrence and treatment of many chronic diseases, a variety of physical ailments, as well as unhealthy behaviors.

Many employers focus solely on the physical aspects of well-being. One’s mental and emotional state clearly impacts success in achieving optimal physical health. Increasingly, organizations are recognizing that employees don’t leave their financial, child/elder care-giving responsibilities and other worries at home, and are beginning to look at wellness in a broader, more holistic way. According to respondents from WorldatWork’s "Total Rewards and Employee Well-Being" survey, 45% of organizations offer integrated programs, recognizing that physical health doesn’t exist in a silo.

See also: Rethinking mental health: 6 tips for employers

In fact, of the top three well-being offerings, three out of five were around mental and behavioral issues, with the top offering being Employee Assistance Programs resource and referral. The top reasons for EAP calls typically are related to mental or emotional health, relationships, family and children, and stress and anxiety disorders.

So, what can employers do?

First recognize that emotional and mental health issues can often be brought on by life situations, such as caregiving responsibilities or the loss of a loved one. Whatever the situation, we are all at risk of poor mental health given the demands and challenges of daily life.

If your organization offers health and wellness initiatives, be sure to incorporate access to programs, resources and education, including helpful tools, such as meditation and mindfulness practices.

Many organizations offer access to EAPs but fail to promote them effectively and/or employees tend to avoid them. Promote the EAP and all the other resources you offer. Integrate them with your other work-life and health-care strategies.

In the WorldatWork survey, well-being programs had positive results for most employers that measured the programs’ effectiveness. Some 87% reported increases in employee engagement, while there was a significant high percentage of respondents indicating increased levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, let us be cognizant of the importance of optimal mental and emotional health to the overall well-being of our employees. Doing so will positively impact the physical well-being of our employees and will, also, greatly improve workforce engagement levels, reduce health- care costs, reduce employee absenteeism and presenteeism, and ultimately lead to improved total health & productivity. Isn’t that good for the bottom line? 

Leonard Sanicola is WorldatWork’s senior practice leader in benefits, total rewards and retirement.

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