The workplace plays a huge role in employees' mental health. The office setting has the power to help you build the mental strength to become your best. But, it also has the power to take a serious toll on your psychological well-being.

Despite the critical role the workplace plays in mental health, few companies ever address the subject.

Why Employers Should Care About Mental Health

Nearly 1 in 5 people experience a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year and many more individuals are at risk.  The vast majority of individuals experiencing mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, don't seek medical attention.

Employees with untreated mental illness cost employers billions of dollars each year.

An estimated 217 million days of work are lost each year due to issues related to mental illness and substance, according to the Center for Prevention and Health Services. Even when employees are physically present, their productivity declines when they're experiencing untreated mental illness.

Additionally, mental illness and substance use disorders are the fifth leading cause of short-term disability and the third leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

Most Employers Have Good Intentions

survey by Buck Consultants at Xerox found that 84 percent of employers believe they have a high responsibility to provide a working environment that promotes mental well-being.

The survey found that employee performance is the most important reason organizations want to address work-related stress and poor mental well-being.

Despite employers' good intentions to promote mental well-being, most companies aren't doing enough to help individuals reduce stress and build mental strength.

Why Employees Struggle With Mental Health Issues

Obviously, not all mental illness is related to the workplace. Genetics, a trauma history, and an individual's life experience also play a role.

But workplace stress is a major contributor to depression, anxiety, and other mental illness.

In 2012, 65 percent of Americans said work was a top source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association's Stress in America Survey. Only 37 percent of Americans said they were doing a good job managing their stress.

A 2013 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association's Center for Organizational Excellence found that more than one-third of Americans experience chronic work stress. And just 36 percent of employees say their organizations provide sufficient resources to help them manage that stress.

The major factors in workplace stress can range from feeling a sense of powerlessness to working for a toxic boss. But clearly, spending 40 hours a week immersed in an unhealthy culture taxes individual's mental energy and wears them down over time.

Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

Most mental health problems are treatable. But, there are several barriers that prevent people from getting the help they need to thrive.

Many people fail to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of a mental health problem. They chalk up their symptoms to stress or they ignore problems as long as they can.

The stigma associated with mental illness also gets in the way of getting help. Some people still think depression or anxiety is a sign of weakness.

For many people, treatment simply isn't affordable. Therapy, medication, or even hospitalization can be quite costly even to individuals who have insurance.

How to Turn Mental Health Awareness Month Into an Opportunity

People aren't either mentally healthy or mentally ill. Mental health is a continuum and on any given day, anyone may find themselves struggling.

Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportune time for employers to promote positive well-being in the workplace.

There are many steps organizations can take to help employees build mental strength--which can be instrumental in preventing mental health problems. It can also help employees recognize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Business leaders should also take time to review their programs. Implementing stress awareness programs and offering free mental health screenings can go a long way toward improving the workplace culture.

Talking about mental health and normalizing the need to take care of your mind--just like you need to take care of your body--sends an important message to employees.

Published on: May 23, 2018
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