Why It’s Important for Employers to Support Mental Health

July 14, 2016

By Best Doctors

Mental illness remains among the most stigmatized of conditions, despite affecting nearly 1 in 5 adults and teens in America. It often isn’t given the same weight as physical health, especially in the workplace. Though it should, considering only an estimated 17 percent of adults are in a state of optimal mental health.

Employees want receptive employers

Madalyn Parker, a web developer at Olark Live Chat, recently wrote to her team, “I’ll be taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully, I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.” What she wasn’t expecting was the supportive reply from her CEO, Ben Congelton, which she shared on Twitter. Users were equally surprised at Congelton’s response, with many also sharing their own personal experiences, both positive and negative. The exchange has since been retweeted nearly 16,000 times and liked 44,000 times.

Congelton, also blown away by the viral tweet, continued his response in an essay for Medium. He wrote, “It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”

Why it matters

Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, explained in an interview with USA Today: “If you have a cold, or have the flu, or you’re feeling under the weather, most employers say don’t come to work. But yet we treat mental health differently, we act as though if you’re having a bad day, or you’re feeling depressed or you’re having anxiety, that you should just toughen up and come to work anyway.”

Those who do take time off often feel they can’t reveal the true reason for their absence or talk about their illness. In a recent survey, 40 percent of Canadians say their mental health has disrupted their lives in the past year. An additional 25 percent – or about 500,000 Canadians a week – report they’ve needed to take time off from work or school to deal with their mental health or help a loved one.

This stigma can exacerbate illnesses by adding unnecessary stress and self-esteem issues or causing sufferers to delay or refuse treatment. For example, studies have found 58% of Americans don’t want to work with a colleague who has a mental illness and 68% don’t want someone with a mental illness marrying into their family. Many also still hold misconceptions about those with mental illnesses, such as the belief they’re more likely to be violent.

The need for normalization

Because of the stigma in discussing and dealing with mental illness, many employees don’t feel their employers value their well-being. Addressing it will not only have a positive effect on struggling employees, but also combat widespread economic consequences as well. Organizations that pay attention to the mental health and wellness of their employees are likely to realize significant benefits through a healthier, more productive workforce. Employers should create a company culture that allows or encourages talking about mental health. They could also offer programs for to help with managing or decreasing stress and mental health screenings.

To learn more about workplace mental health solutions, tune in to Best Doctors webinar, Mental Health in the Workplace. Hear from an expert team of highly respected clinicians and HR leaders to learn strategies and best practices to improve the mental health ecosystem. The session will highlight the profound impact mental health has on physical and financial health, and how the workplace is the optimal environment to provide education and access to services to improve outcomes and ultimately reduce costs associated with absenteeism, disability and complex medical cases.

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