Managing Mental Health at Work: How Employers Can Be a Part of the Solution

A group of highly esteemed mental health professionals recently wrote an op-ed warning of a potential mental health crisis among the U.S. workforce. The letter urges employers and businesses to respond to the emotional needs of their workers, so we can all overcome this COVID-19 crisis together. The psychologists warn that not focusing on these issues could result in a major drag on the U.S. economy.

Business owners are already grappling with the challenges of bringing their workers back into the office. Neglecting the mental health of their teams could lead to disaster as the pandemic stretches on. Meanwhile, workers are having trouble dealing with their own depression and anxiety as they work from home in relative isolation.

As an employee or manager, use the tips below to improve the mental health of your team.

How the Pandemic is Affecting the U.S. Workforce

The stress of the coronavirus is real. Many people have been laid off or forced to work from home over the last six months. Working in isolation or being separated from friends and family is having a serious effect on many people’s psyches.

Nearly four in 10 Americans say the coronavirus is having a serious impact on their mental health. The virus has upended the traditional work-life balance across the country. People aren’t leaving the house as much as they’re used to, which can leave them feeling cut off from the outside world. Many workers are coping with the loss of a loved one, educating their children at home, or stressing about money or the health of their family.

Before the pandemic, the U.S. population didn’t have a great reputation when it came to talking about their feelings and emotions. According to a 2019 survey, more than half of employees said they did not talk to anyone at work about their mental health in the last year.

Suicide remains a leading cause of death in the U.S., especially among young people ages 15 to 29. Economists also estimate that depression and anxiety cost the global economy around $1 trillion a year.

Tips from Mental Health Professionals

If we want the U.S. economy to improve, we need to address these underlying issues.

That’s why a group of mental health professionals wrote the op-ed in the first place. It’s a collaboration between the National Network of Depression Centers and the Project Healthy Minds, a nonprofit that’s focused on destigmatizing mental illness, using technology to expand access to mental health solutions, and engaging employers to tackle the mental health crisis.

It includes five tips for managers and business owners:

  1. Talk Openly About These Issues and Encourage Your Workers to Do the Same

Managers should foster an open, honest work environment where people feel comfortable talking about their depression and anxiety. Around 81% of workers say the stigma around mental health prevents them from seeking treatment. You may like to think of your workers and colleagues as strong and independent, but we are all human at the end of the day. No one is immune to depression and anxiety, especially in the middle of a global pandemic, even if they are considered all-stars at their job.

  1. Train Managers on Mental Health

If an employee is suffering from depression or anxiety, they will likely report these issues to a manager. Supervisors should be trained on how to identify and respond to various mental health issues. This can be extremely invaluable when managing remote teams. Employees should feel comfortable coming forward with these issues without fear of retaliation or receiving special treatment.

  1. Create a Flexible Solution

Mental health can take many forms. Some people may have their own way of coping at work, while others may not feel comfortable talking openly about these issues. Companies and managers should create a flexible, tailored approach, so every worker can get the help they need. Use incentives to encourage your employees to participate in employee assistance programs. Right now, just 10% of workers take advantage of these programs.

  1. Employee Benefits with a Purpose

Create an employee benefits program that supports mental health. Give your workers the time and resources to seek treatment, take time off work, and lead a healthy lifestyle. Avoid overworking employees, so they have the time to deal with these issues and spend time with their loved ones.

  1. Stay Committed to the Cause

Considering all the stigma that’s been circulating around these issues, many companies will have to overcome decades of skepticism when bridging the gap on mental health. They should go big and show their workers that they are committed to creating a healthy, sustainable work environment. Having managers or CEOs come forward with their own struggles may help get the ball rolling.

Improving mental health is a great investment for businesses of all sizes. The World Health Organization estimates that for every $1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.

This is our chance to turn the tide on mental health. Keep these tips in mind to improve the wellness of your workers and colleagues.

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