As we continue to learn more about mental health and the growing importance around well-being in the workplace, it is critical for organizations to create an environment that not only supports mental health but makes it a priority. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their life, and nearly one in five adults will experience mental illness in a given year.
Unfortunately, unlike physical illnesses, mental disorders can easily go unnoticed, eventually impacting more than one person. A recent study done by the National Business Group on Heath shows that each year in the U.S. 36 million productive workdays are lost due to mental disorders. In order to help solve this, organizations must implement the proper resources to promote and manage mental health.
So how can we really start prioritizing mental health at work?
Stop the Stigma
First things first, as an employer or an HR leader, you are put in a powerful position to not only offer support but change attitudes. Research shows that many people don’t even feel comfortable discussing conditions at work. Far too often, the outdated and damaging stigma of mental health is reinforced when organizations choose to not prioritize the importance of it. Be a leader by setting the tone. Talk about mental health concerns in an open, honest and transparent way and let people know that they will be heard. Sometimes even one conversation can make a huge impact. Don’t wait to talk about it when it seems relevant, because mental health always is.
Update Benefits and Develop Policies
Without having proper mental health policies and updated benefits, your organization may be at a standstill with solving this important issue. It’s also not enough to have benefits and policies if they are not being communicated clearly and often. Some ways to provide resources can be appointing a contact within your organization who is trained in mental health management, arrange for mental health education and resources onsite, and ensure you have a robust behavioral health benefit tied to your insurance program. This being said, when policies are put into place, it’s sometimes common for people to forget that they have access, so make sure to communicate!
Train and Educate
Although many of us will manage a mental health condition at some point in our life, most people are unaware of available resources. When it comes to training managers and employees, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The truth is, every person is different, and their experiences vary. While there are several resources that should be made available beyond your own organization, be proactive in creating inclusive trainings and programs among your team. Open a workplace discussion that teaches different coping strategies. Provide employees with a 24/7 help line that they have access to any time of the day. Even sending out reminders on where employees can easily find information can go a long way in navigating and normalizing mental health at work.
Create a Positive and Accepting Culture
We talk about the importance of culture all the time. Creating a positive and accepting culture not only reduces the stigma, but it instills a comfortable, compassionate and supportive environment. This is a process that starts from the top. Leaders and HR must act as role models for the organization, especially when it comes to the health of their employees. One way to encourage a positive culture is to model vulnerability as a strength and be transparent in the discussions you have. It’s not always easy for people to open up and admit they might need help, but when organizations focus on building a culture around accepting people for who they are, it will create a very positive ripple effect of trust.
Talking about mental health is more important than ever. The good news is that awareness is increasing. Organizations that are taking the time to invest in different benefits, review their policies and make mental health a common topic of conversation are those that are setting their employees up for success. Executives and HR teams must lead the way toward implementing a culture of acceptance where people believe in the opportunity to bring their best self to work every day.