Addressing Mental Well-Being In and Out of the Workplace: How Employers Can Help
By Edward Crouch, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Liberty Mutual Benefits
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that in 2015, 17.9% of adults experienced a mental illness and 6.7% experienced an episode of major depression.1 The impact on your employees and the resulting absence and productivity losses can be significant. Your employees’ mental health can be impacted by stress at work, finances, and their personal lives. Employers can play a major role in eliminating some of these stressors and thereby enhance employees’ mental well-being.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for employers to prevent behavioral disability exists in selecting the right individual for a job. The importance of job fit cannot be overestimated. Do we consider what a job requires in the way of characteristics and capabilities, and interview accordingly? Asking job candidates about their strategies and coping skills to manage similar stresses in past jobs is not only legal, but wise.
Then, once at work, is that individual managed by a thoughtful supervisor who is prepared to help employees find meaning in their work and deal with challenges at work, as well as their own or family members’ health challenges? Do supervisors encourage and welcome return to work for employees who have had a disability? If a behaviorally-related accommodation is requested, is it appropriately considered? Providing employees with clear expectations and regular, thoughtful feedback does much to decrease stress in the workplace. Helping employees develop their talent gives them a sense of security. A corporate culture of health and wellness impacts both physical and mental well-being. Exercise and diet are critical in helping people maintain their mental health. Socialization at work around health may also help the individual who otherwise is isolated to find support and make new connections.
Health risk assessments can focus individuals on potential health concerns and everyone should have a comfortable, established relationship with a healthcare provider. Because physical illness may contribute to psychiatric illness, your health plans should be accessible when needed. When employers contribute to health savings accounts for their employees covered by high deductible health plans, they should ensure their employees are aware of how to access the financial support.
Most employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs), but have they been carefully selected for quality and promoted to employees? Does the EAP encourage employees to seek help from a therapist when they experience relationship or family difficulties? Are they promptly referred to appropriate providers when a psychiatric illness emerges? Are employees aware of the resources available to pay for psychiatric interventions or do they just avoid getting help?
Research has shown that people with debt face an increased risk of developing a psychiatric illness.2 Do EAPs also provide financial counseling? Do employers promote financial planning and financial well-being? Do we help the individual who has experienced a catastrophe?
These are basic opportunities that arise every day. Attention to these issues can help significantly improve the mental well-being of employees and the success of your company. We know that a holistic approach to an individual who has a psychiatric disability can make a very significant impact. But why not design workplaces and provide resources that prevent disability?
- Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 16-4984, NSDUH Series H-51). 2016. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015.htm
- Richardson T, P Elliott, R Roberts. The Relationship Between Personal Unsecured Debt and Mental and Physical Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(8):1148-1162. 2013. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2013.08.009