The CEO’s Desk: Add Mental Well-Being to Your Agenda

Tasha Patterson@Work

Add Mental Health to AgendaBy Terri Rhodes, MBA, CPDM, CCMP


May is mental health awareness month, and as we gain greater awareness, we realize that mental well-being is bigger than the absence of a mental illness.

The United States spent an estimated $201 billion on mental disorders like anxiety and depression in 2013, according to the new analysis in the Journal of Health Affairs1, and serious mental illnesses result in approximately $193 billion in lost earnings per year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness2.

Many C-Suite leaders assume that health plan costs capture the total cost of workplace mental health concerns. But, the data above tells a different story and suggests that not addressing mental illness can affect a company’s bottom line.

When presenting the business case to corporate leadership for workplace mental health initiatives, it’s important to note that most employers already have many of the pieces in place to help employees overcome mental health challenges and enjoy full productivity at work.

Employee assistance programs provide counseling and other services, and mental health treatment options are available through the health plan or a carve-out plan. When diagnosed early and treated properly, many people fully recover from their mental illness or can successfully control their symptoms. As many as 8 in 10 people suffering from a mental illness can effectively return to their normal activities if they receive appropriate treatment.

The bad news is that most people are not getting the treatment they need. One in five people is dealing with a mental health situation on a daily basis; yet only one-third of these people are receiving the care they need.

Employers can bridge this gap by combatting the stigma around mental illness, which can prevent employees from getting needed treatment. We need to incorporate de-stigmatization into the corporate agenda, and one easy way to do that is to change the vernacular.  Instead of talking about mental illness, let’s talk about mental well-being which turns a negative into a positive.

Recently, the Royal Family in the U.K. shocked many of us when they rejected the idea of the “stiff upper lip” and openly discussed their own mental health challenges. So, from my vantage point, there is no reason we can’t also “take the lid off” mental health in the U.S. as well.

This requires more than a flashing banner on the company website; it demands a dedicated initiative to reform corporate culture. The good news is that efforts like this do not involve significant capital investment; they just need support from company leadership. As integrated absence management professionals, it’s our job to articulate the business case to our corporate leaders and secure their support.

DMEC has provided two excellent resources to help you: the Minding Your Business: Mental Health in the Workplace Executive Summary3 and the 2016 DMEC Behavioral Health Survey White Paper4. The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health offers free resources such as Right Direction, the ICU Program, the #IWILLLISTEN social media campaign, and Stamp Out Stigma.

And DMEC is offering additional behavioral health resources through our webinars and conferences. Again this year, we will offer a mental well-being preconference workshop at the 2017 DMEC Annual Conference. The workshop is included in your full conference registration.

Please join us in Anaheim and help us celebrate the progress that has been made over the last 25 years in addressing mental health in the workplace.


  1. C Roehrig. Mental Disorders Top the List of the Most Costly Conditions in the United States: $201 Billion. Journal of Health Affairs 35:61130-1135. June 2016.
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from
  3. DMEC members can access the Minding Our Business: Mental Health in the Workplace Executive Summary at mental-health-workplace-executive-summary/
  4. DMEC members can access the 2016 DMEC Behavioral Health Survey White Paper at