One in five Americans suffers from mental health conditions, compared to the number of Americans with diabetes and heart disease.
Without improved treatment, the world will lose 12 billion workdays to depression and anxiety disorders alone by 2030, according to World Health Organization estimates.
The prevalence of mental health conditions in the United States and the potential cost of these lost workdays demonstrate why it is important for employers to recognize the impact of mental health support in the workplace.
See also: Anxiety overlooked workplace issue
In response to the growing awareness of and need for mental health support in the workplace, many companies are beginning to offer employee assistance programs that address a wide range of mental wellness concerns, from stress and substance abuse to grief and relationship issues. Making mental health a business priority makes employees feel valued and supported, and the benefits are widespread, including:
· Reducing illness leave, absenteeism and disability costs. Employees who are healthy and happy, both mentally and physically, take fewer sick days and ultimately cut medical costs for employers. The more days employees are able to work, the better it is for businesses and their bottom line.
· Increasing employee productivity and engagement. It’s no secret that a healthy employee is more productive and able to contribute more to the business. Giving employees the support they need in and out of the office gives them the ability to thrive. In many ways, company successes rely on healthy employees.
· Attracting and retaining strong talent. When a company takes an interest in the mental well-being of its people, employees feel appreciated. As technology blurs the line between personal and professional time, employees have come to expect more from employers in terms of atmosphere and culture, beginning with basic benefits.
So why has it taken so long for business to catch on to and take advantage of these benefits? There are many misperceptions about the cost-effectiveness and transformative role of mental health services. This, combined with a general lack of information about the costs of mental illness in the workplace and a general wariness of talking openly about mental health, has caused some businesses to be slower to invest in mental health resources for employees.
However, even with all of these positive changes taking place, a larger issue still pervades: the stigma of mental illness. According to a 2016 mental health report, 56% of employers say they would not hire someone with depression, a condition that reportedly affects one in 10 Americans.
One of the first steps in reversing this outdated misconception is making workplaces supportive allies in the fight against the mental illness stigma. As the backbone of successful companies and the people most in-tune with employees, human resources departments are key in reversing this stigma. HR’s unique top-level vantage point is the ideal mechanism to facilitate organizational change in order to break down existing misconceptions and minimize potential legal claims.
It’s imperative for employers to not only recognize the impact of mental health and offer corresponding preventative programs, but to also encourage their employees to engage in meaningful conversation about mental health. By offering services like EAPs and starting the dialogue, employers can demonstrate that mental health should be recognized and addressed head on.
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