Mental Health Support in the Workplace

Mental Health Support in the Workplace


Are you doing all you can to support your employees’ mental health – and do they know about it?

Increases in mental health needs over the past few years have been striking. According to Mental Health America, the prevalence of mental illness among adults was increasing even before COVID-19. Between 2017 and 2018, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, an increase of 1.5 million people over the previous dataset. Then, in 2020, the organization saw a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking help – a 93% increase in people taking their anxiety screen and a 62% increase in people taking their depression screen.

Most employers think they’re doing quite a bit to support employee mental health. A McKinsey Study showed 65% of companies believe they have the necessary benefits and tools. But only 51% of employees agree.

The result of that gap is employee loyalty, health and productivity – all even more important in today’s tight labor market.

Here’s how you can provide mental health support at your workplace.

First, make sure you have programs in place

The most obvious workplace resource to support mental health is the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Many of our clients have them, but others don’t – likely because of the cost. It might help to know that some life and disability carriers offer no-cost EAPs with their coverage. These programs typically provide referrals and some automated support resources. They aren’t as robust as full EAPs, but they do give your employees some resources to help them out.

Next, communicate the resources regularly

For those who have EAPs, we often see low awareness and utilization among employees. You could cite many reasons for this, including the stigma of mental illness and fears about confidentiality. But we think it has a lot to do with lack of communication.

Most companies communicate about the EAP during open enrollment and then let it drop. If that describes you, you’re not alone. Heck, I wasn’t sure who my own employer’s EAP was before I looked! So, communicating what resources you offer is key.

  • Let employees know about virtual and in-person counseling services.
  • Explain the variety of needs EAPs can address – from anxiety and depression to relationships and financial issues – even child care and elder care support.
  • Help them understand who is eligible. Most programs cover spouses and children, even if they’re not on your medical plan.
  • Emphasize confidentiality. The EAP only shares aggregated data. It does not share information about which individuals accessed their services.

Talk with your EAP. Most have communication resources ready to share with your employees. Simple flyers or posters around the worksite – delivered at regular intervals – could do a lot to close the gap between what you provide and what employees perceive is available.

The same is true of the mental health resources included in your medical plan coverage. Employees often are unaware of them. And, like the EAPs, medical carriers often have a suite of customizable communications to help you spread the word.

Look at workplace risk factors

Mental health is influenced greatly by the workplace experience. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), things like strict working hours, inadequate health and safety policies, and poor communication and management practices are key risk factors for mental health. Yet these are in your control. Potential interventions:

  • Implement and enforce health and safety policies and practices
  • Involve employees in decision-making, giving employees a feeling of control and participation
  • Implement organizational practices that support a healthy work-life balance
  • Provide programs for career development
  • Recognize and reward employee contributions
It’s worth the investment

Many of these strategies cost little to nothing. Still, consider that a recent WHO study showed any investment in mental health is worth it. The report estimated that every $1 put into scaled-up treatment for common mental disorders returns $4 in improved health and productivity.

Be prepared for more

Don’t think the surge in mental health needs will dissipate when employees return to work from COVID-19. While isolation and a lack of social interaction may have contributed to the current increase, forcing people to return to the office and the complications of hybrid working could energize a second wave.

By Dan Harrison, Senior Vice President, Benefits

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