By Stephanie Hammerwold
I recently attended the National Human Resources Association’s panel on “The Impact of Mental Health in the Workplace.” We spend a large amount of our time in the workplace. If employees are struggling with mental illness, that comes to work with them. It affects their work and well being, so it is important that employers recognize the need to provide resources to support employee mental health.
The Reality of Mental Illness
Steve Pitman is the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. During the panel, he pointed out that one in five people will have a diagnosis of mental illness this year. Of those diagnosed, 50% are not getting treatment. Given these numbers, it is clear that this is an area that employers must address.
The signs of mental illness are not outwardly visible, and Pitman said that the number one reason people do not seek treatment is the stigma. There is this thought that a person can just get over it. But the reality is that treating mental illness requires help and support—just as people get for physical illness. If workplaces are open and supportive of mental health, it helps break down that stigma, and this is good for everyone. As Pitman explained, “An environment that supports mental health supports all employees.”
How to Support Employees
Your employee assistance program (EAP) and coverage for mental health in your insurance plan are excellent places to start, but supporting mental health does not stop there. Find ways to incorporate mental health into your existing wellness program. You can also provide training on topics like suicide prevention, recognizing the signs of depression and supporting children with mental illness. Panelist Sheryl Correa of St. Joseph Health explained that your approach to mental health education should also include training people on positive well-being in the workplace. At St. Joseph, she said that they open meetings with a reflection to help people focus and feel grounded.
Correa offered five easy steps that employees can easily incorporate into their daily routine:
- Gratitude—figure out something you are grateful for
- Journal one positive thing you have done in the last 24 hours
- Practice random acts of kindness
These changes can start small. For example, meditate for a minute and slowly increase that one minute each day until you get to your target length of time. HR professionals and managers can support employees by allowing them to slow down occasionally to take a few minutes to focus on these things or even encourage them to use break time to go for a relaxing walk away from their desk.
Panelist Noma Bruton offers more suggestions on her blog. Bruton is certified as a mental health first aid instructor and works with HR professionals to train them on recognizing and responding to the signs of mental illness in the workplace as well as ways to support mental health in the workplace. As she points out in her blog post, “In the past, HR contributed to issues of discrimination, sexual harassment, cracking the glass ceiling and providing employment to people with disabilities. By bringing meaningful change to the workplace, HR is well placed to move the dial on mental health.”
Reshaping the Workplace
While it is important that we have resources to help employees focus on mental health, it is also necessary that we look at how our work environments affect mental health. Toxic work environments do nothing to support positive well-being. If you notice that morale is low and that employees are regularly struggling, take the time to look at your policies and practices. Are your managers creating an environment that encourages long days and impossible deadlines? Are they supervising by yelling and bullying?
Supporting mental health in the workplace also requires that we look to our own practices to make sure we are not causing unnecessary stress. Create an environment where employees can have a work-life balance and can have time off to spend with friends and families. Happier employees are more productive and are better ambassadors for your company and your brand.