The Importance of Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace

By Sean Flavin May 25th, 2022

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, making it a great time to talk about a subject that doesn't get nearly the coverage it deserves: mental health in the workplace.

According to stats from Mental Health America (MHA), roughly one in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. And almost 50 percent of adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life.

Given the prevalence of mental health conditions, it's likely that there are members of your workforce who are living with one or more right now, and it's crucial to provide the proper support and resources.

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

According to the most recent study available, serious mental illness causes almost $200 billion in lost earnings each year in the U.S.

The pandemic has ostensibly made matters even worse. A 2022 study on mental health in the workplace found that 80 percent of employees said that stress from work affects their personal relationships. This increased stress has put an increasingly considerable strain on employees’ ability to do their jobs: in 2022, 71 percent of employees reported difficulties concentrating at work, up from 65 percent last year and 46 percent in 2018.

Despite the pervasiveness of the issue, many mental conditions go untreated. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), of the 53 million adults in the United States with a mental illness, less than half received treatment.

So, why are tens of millions of Americans with legitimate afflictions not getting the care they need?

Certainly, some of it has to do with an individual’s ability to cover the expenses of that care. In 2020, 11 percent of U.S. adults with mental illness had no insurance coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Access to care is another major problem — as an estimated 150 million Americans live in a designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area.

While there may not be much your company can do to improve access to mental health professionals, there is something you can do about the coverage. Ensuring your company’s health benefits program includes mental health screening and treatment is a step in the right direction.   

Ditching the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

But the problem goes beyond coverage and access. The stigma surrounding mental illness plays a significant role in many adults’ hesitancy to seek care. According to MHA, “mental health awareness is increasing, but employee comfort levels and their likelihood of seeking out workplace resources leave room for improvement.” While nearly 50 percent of employees know what mental health services are available to them, only 38 percent are comfortable using their company’s services.

The stigma around mental health treatment is in the crosshairs of One in Five — a campaign focused on normalizing the need for mental health resources and removing the stigma for those who want to access care.

According to One in Five — a campaign focused on removing the stigma surrounding mental illness:

“People with mental health problems who receive treatment are just as productive as other employees. Employers who hire people with mental health diagnoses report good attendance [as well as] motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees. When employees with mental health concerns receive effective treatment, it can result in lower total medical costs, increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and decreased disability costs.”

Said another way, employers reap an array of benefits from increasing mental health awareness in the workplace — including a healthier and more productive workforce and the likelihood of lowering the overall costs of your health benefits.

Mental Health Resources

Several organizations are working to promote mental health awareness and provide employers and individuals with crucial resources and support. Here are a few links to help get you started:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI has dedicated a section of their website to foster understanding of Mental Health Awareness Month with resources and amplify their message of “Together for Mental Health.”

Mental Health America (MHA)

MHA has observed Mental Health Awareness Month since its inception in 1949. This year, they’re promoting the theme “Back to Basics” and offering a toolkit with graphics and other resources.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

The NIMH offers shareable resources to help you raise awareness about mental health in your community. Their resource library includes helpful information and shareable social media graphics and videos on a range of mental health topics and disorders.

A Proactive Approach to Mental Health has Practical Benefits

A good health benefits program doesn’t simply cover your employees’ claims; it helps make your entire workforce healthier. Companies should look to incorporate a benefits program that takes a holistic and proactive approach to health — both physical and mental. Ensuring your company offers the support, resources, and encouragement that your employees need can make your workforce healthier and significantly reduce your overall cost of risk.

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