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Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, many employers are reluctant to broach the subject with their employees – and unsure how to help. Dr. Jeff Rubin, vice president of behavioral operations with Accolade, is a practicing psychologist with 30 years of experience. Based on his experience, Rubin offers six ways employers can change the way their companies think about mental health:

[Images: Shutterstock]
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Give mental illness its humanity.
We have no trouble distinguishing people from their physical illnesses; just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you are diabetes. But in our efforts to be helpful when people get depressed or stressed, we deprive them of their individuality. We talk about symptoms and behaviors. We make a diagnosis and say “that person is depressed,” but often what we mean is that person is depression. Stress and anxiety are reactions a person has – not who that person is. Symptoms are important – but hardly tell the whole story. What does this mean for employers? They should concentrate their efforts on mental health, not mental illness.
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Don’t separate mental health from physical health.
Not all mental illness is diagnosed. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, less than a third of adults with a diagnosable mental illness receive treatment in any given year. Often, stress and depression manifest themselves physically – in symptoms such as back pain or gastrointestinal disorders. Conversely, chronic physical health problems can contribute to mental illness. Mental health is an integral part of physical health, and vice versa.
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Whenever possible, mitigate stress for your employees.
Stress comes from multiple sources. Do what you can to alleviate the ones created within your organization – and connect your employees to resources that help them manage the ones that arise out of their day-to-day lives.
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View mental illness as a life-and-death matter.
When choosing behavioral health programs for your employees, remember that mental illness can be as life-threatening as physical illness.
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By the same token, do everything you can to de-stigmatize mental illness.
Create a workplace in which people feel comfortable talking about mental health and mental illness without fear of being labeled – every day, not just during “Mental Health Month.”
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Remember: Hope is therapeutic.
When it comes to mental illness, we know people can get better. According to the American Public Health Association, the success rate for the treatment of depression ranges from 70-80%. In comparison to the rest of medical science, psychology and psychiatry are still in their infancy, so we don’t always know why. On the other hand, we do know – to paraphrase psychiatrist Irvin Yalom – that the most therapeutic thing about therapy is that it gives the patient hope. If you think you’re going to get better –and your therapist thinks you’re going to get better – you’re more likely to get better. That hope doesn’t come by working with a collection of symptoms; instead, it springs from the human being across from you who thinks and feels.
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