The Importance Of Mental Health In The Workplace

A safe workplace include healthy mental health

It is estimated that one-third of our life is spent at work. While employers are responsible for providing a safe and hazard-free workplace, they also have an obligation to foster an emotionally and mentally healthy environment. After all, employees are the heart of every company. Mental health issues should be treated with the same concern as physical safety concerns in the workplace.

Multiple factors can affect one's mental well-being, and our mental health affects many aspects of our lives, such as relationships, physical and emotional health, productivity, financial stability and more. In addition, it influences how we think, feel, and act. Mental health also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.

Mental health has historically been stigmatized due to a lack of understanding or fear, leaving many to dismiss their feelings or feel too ashamed to seek help.

In the workplace, untreated mental health conditions can significantly impact day-to-day tasks, morale and finances. Poor mental health may cause stress and anxiety, which can impair decision-making and impact reaction time and the ability to recognize a risk or hazard. An estimated 12 billion workdays are lost annually due to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion.

Often, people avoid or delay speaking with a mental health professional due to concerns of being treated differently, labeled or losing their job and livelihood. Similarly, poor mental health has inaccurately been equated to weakness when it should be normalized, just like any other medical diagnosis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that eight in 10 people with a mental illness report shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment.

However, decades of work and the pandemic are forcing mental health to no longer be an afterthought, especially for businesses.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) signed a two-year agreement to promote workplace mental health and suicide prevention awareness.

As part of the agreement, OSHA and AFSP will develop information and products on workplace mental health and suicide prevention awareness in multiple languages that reflect diversity in the workforce and encourage workers' sense of belonging.

In September, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) called for concrete actions to address mental health concerns in the working population with the release of two new publications, the WHO guidelines on mental health at work and a derivative WHO/ILO policy brief. 

WHO’s guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations to promote mental health, prevent mental health conditions, and enable people living with mental health conditions to participate and thrive in work. The guidelines offer specific actions to tackle risks such as heavy workloads, negative behaviors, and other factors that create distress at work. For the first time the WHO recommends manager training, to build their capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers in distress.

Mental Health Is Just As Important As Your Physical Health

The guidelines also recommend better ways to accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions, propose interventions that support their return to work and, for those with severe mental health conditions, provide interventions that facilitate entry into paid employment. Additionally, the guidelines call for interventions aimed at the protection of health, humanitarian, and emergency workers.

Workplaces can help correct the perception of mental health and support employees who may be experiencing mental illness. By taking steps to understand and reduce contributing factors, employers will improve their employees' well-being and lead teams to be more proficient and engaged.

Here are ideas for creating a workplace where all employees can thrive

Create a healthy environment 

  1. Eliminate psychosocial hazards. Psychosocial hazards are factors in the work environment that can cause stress, strain, or interpersonal problems to the employee, such as low job control, long hours, heavy workloads, lack of support or poor workplace conditions.
  2. Decrease stigma in the workplace. Using non-stigmatizing language, encouraging employees to support one another and providing resources about mental health help create a healthy workplace culture.
  3. Foster community. Provide opportunities for employees to connect, such as holiday events, social hours and team lunches.
  4. Begin meetings with a higher thought or affirmation to provide a pick-me-up and a moment for gratitude.
  5. Consider offering mindfulness training, yoga and an outdoor area where employees can work or enjoy lunch.
Wellbeing of employees

Provide mental health support

  1. Show support to employees. Supervisors and employees should be open to conversations about how to support employee mental health, be proactive in approaching coworkers who may be struggling and be understanding if someone needs accommodations or time off work.
  2. Offer to cover the fee for meditation, sleep and other mental health apps.
  3. Train leaders to recognize emotional distress and respond appropriately.
  4. Educate team members on mental health to create awareness and reduce stigma. Organizations such as NAMI offer multiple free resources for companies.
  5. Provide accommodations and develop a return-to-work process when employees take a leave of absence to seek mental health treatment.
  6. Communicate the available supports frequently through multiple channels and tailor communications for different levels of employee need.
  7. Use routine surveys to monitor employee well-being and adjust support services as needed.
  8. Offer health insurance with no or low out-of-pocket costs for depression medications and mental health counseling.

Employers who prioritize mental health and therefore lead by example are changing the perception of our current workforce and creating a healthy and equitable culture that will attract and satisfy the next generation of talent.