May is Mental Health Month. How healthy is your workplace? Is the corporate culture free of the stigma long associated with mental illness? Are employees educated about the importance of their mental health and knowledgeable about treatment resources available to them?
I’ve worked in several industries and for companies large and small. And I’ve found that, as with anything else related to company culture, how mental health is addressed at work starts with leadership. The degree to which caring for employees is a stated company value is related to the mental health of the organization. A corporate culture that values the well-being of employees will provide the elements for good mental health.
Incorporating a Mentally Healthy Corporate Culture in your Workplace
Offer Mental Health Benefits Equivalent to Physical Health
Providing insurance that covers both mental and physical conditions is foundational to a healthy workplace. It sends a clear message to employees that their mental health is as important as their physical health. Many companies now comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and offer comparable coverage to employees. Unfortunately, the mental health coverage is frequently not promoted by management so employees remain unaware of the benefit. Raising employees’ awareness of mental health coverage should be an important benefits communication objective each plan year.
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that is robust, fully integrated with the company’s benefit programs and widely promoted is an important element to a healthy workplace. It’s another way to communicate to employees that their overall well-being is important. Raising the visibility of the EAP reduces the stigma of mental illness and provides employees with critical referral information for seeking treatment.
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Educate Employees About the Importance of Mental Health
An estimated 1 in 5 adults suffers a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year and mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the US and Canada. In 2006, the US spent nearly as much on mental health care as on cancer care. And yet the general public is woefully uneducated about the extent of mental illness in America and the degree to which it is treatable.
Education is the key to overcoming stigma. At least two groups have recently launched national campaigns to raise awareness about mental health. In addition to May is Mental Health Month, led by Mental Health America, a coalition of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders and leaders from the private sector launched the Campaign to Change Direction in April. Teaching the Five Signs of mental disorder is a key message of the Campaign to Change Direction. Both campaigns provide resources and material to assist business leaders in educating their workforce.
Refer Employees to Treatment
Many employees don’t know they may be suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder. Confidential online screening tools are provided by many EAPs and mental health organizations. Employers who make these screening tools available to employees, along with referrals to treatment options, demonstrate their commitment to a healthy and productive work environment.
Providing insurance coverage may be foundational, but open communication is the most important characteristic of a mentally healthy workplace.
WorkingMinds.org, an organization dedicated to eliminating the impact of suicide in the workplace and beyond, provides an online quiz – Is Your Workplace Mentally Healthy – on their website.