With 1 in 5 Americans facing a mental health or substance abuse issue within their lifetime, employers cannot afford to ignore the mental wellness of their employees. The annual economic impact of depression alone in America was estimated to be over $210 billion in 2010, a number that is expected to continue to rise. Additionally, 217 million workdays are completely or partially lost each year due to mental illness.
The good news is that mental health focused programs can be integrated into existing wellness plans to address not only mental and emotional health concerns, but can enhance overall employee engagement. Plus, through the use of psychoeducation and mental health experts, these programs can be targeted to an employer’s unique needs and delivered in a cost-effective format.
Psychoeducation is the process of providing information and support for individuals to better understand and cope with mental health issues and concerns. It can enhance employees mental, emotional and physical health and can be implemented either in-person or virtually, and in many different formats including groups, lectures, or one-on-one.
Examples of psychoeducation programming include stress management groups, emotional health focused lunch-and-learns, communication seminars, prevention and education on mental health issues, mindfulness skill groups, or even one-on-one consultations. The beauty of psychoeducation programs is that it has a high degree of adaptability to the employer's current and future needs, while having an expert on hand to consult with regarding needs and resources on both an organizational and individual level.
These programs work to enhance employee health and well-being in several ways.
Psychoeducation can empower employees’ ability to identify their own mental health needs. It can improve adherence and engagement with more traditional physical health programming present in most contemporary wellness programs. Finally, these programs can reduce stigma of mental health issues and provide an environment supportive to individuals struggling with these concerns.
A key aspect of mental health treatment is the individual’s recognition, and ability to verbalize, when they are experiencing mental health concerns. Since there is no blood test for depression or any other mental or emotional disorder, diagnoses is a complex process. Psychoeducation helps empower individuals with language specific to what they are experiencing mentally and emotionally, thus enabling them to communicate their mental health concerns in an effective manner. Improved communication regarding an individual's mental health concerns increases the probability that they will access resources and support in a timely manner, ultimately resulting in improved overall prognosis.
Mental or emotional disorders frequently occur with physical health issues. Individuals with depression typically consume two to four times the healthcare resources of other employees. In addition to the financial costs, there also exists a complex interaction between employees mental and physical health outcomes. Depression alone is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease. Further, individuals with mental or emotional disorders frequently have other chronic medical illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. Mental health issues, left untreated, result in worse health outcomes for individuals with chronic illness.
Stigma towards mental health treatment has decreased, however stigma still presents a barrier for many individuals to seek treatment. Providing psychoeducation in the workplace increases the conversation regarding mental and emotional health, thus reducing stigma. Further, it sets a tone within the workplace that mental and emotional health matter and consistent communication allows for individuals to address their mental and emotional needs in a meaningful way.
Decreased stigma also increases the likelihood that employees will use the resources available to them. Only 1.8% of employees with an EAP benefit available to them utilize it, which given the incidence of mental and emotional disorders alone shows that this resource is vastly underutilized. Regularly scheduled psychoeducation series provide consistent reminders for employees to utilize resources available to them, such as EAPs, increasing the likelihood that they will utilize them.
Given the high incidence of mental health issues among the American workforce, the complex and inherent interaction between mental, emotional and physical health, as well as the alarmingly low number of individuals utilizing mental health resources, more emphasis needs to be placed on integrating mental health specific interventions within contemporary employee wellness programs. This need can be uniquely met by integrating psychoeducation programing, led by mental health experts, to current wellness programs.
In addition to the benefits discussed above, there is the additional benefit that by adding in mental health to workplace wellness programs, employees are viewed holistically. This has the potential to impact wellness outcomes in a positive way across the board.
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