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Jun 19, 2015

Understanding and Improving Mental Health in the Workplace

Scope of the Problem

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans have had a diagnosable mental health condition in the last year. i In fact, according to the World Health Organization, five of the 10 leading causes of disability are mental health issues.ii

Mental health problems in the workplace effect:

  • Absenteeism
  • Morale/staff attitude
  • Overall employee performance

Therefore, caring for your employees' mental health is good for both employees and employers alike.

Many mental health problems develop over time, so the ability to notice symptoms of anxiety, depression or burnout (for example) in a staff member at your company means that you may be able to prevent a major mental health issue before it manifests.

How a Workplace can Influence Staff Mental Health Issues

While we’re not blaming employers for staff mental health issues, understanding how one’s business culture impacts employees mentally can help an employer to improve their influence on employee mental wellbeing.

Here are a few items to consider.

Relationships: Is your office a high conflict environment? Are your employees isolated or are they building positive work relationships?

Roles: Do your employees know what their specific roles are and what constitutes success in those roles? Are staff responsibilities and tasks clearly defined?

Leadership: Do your employees know to whom they are reporting? Conversely, do employees know who to reach out to for support (and is that support system succeeding)?

Responsibility: Do your employees have too much responsibility? Are they working without a safety net? Are employees harshly dealt with when they make an error? Is staff being set up for success or failure in their roles? Is staff overloaded with work?

Advancement: Do your employees know where their careers are going? Positive psychology shows us that to promote happiness with one’s work, employees need to feel that they’re moving forward and getting somewhere in their careers.

Control: Do your employees have any part in company decision making, both about projects in which they’re involved and decisions that affect them?

Schedule: Do your employees have some flexibility in their schedules? Can employees obtain a work-life balance? Do employees have the ability and resources to take time off when they need it?

What Can a Business Do to Help an Employee with Mental Health Issues?

Warning Signs: Supervisor’s need education on how to identify employees in trouble, and they need training on how to appropriately approach an employee and then connect him or her with resources for getting help.

Don’t Stigmatize: Don’t stigmatize or ostracize an employee who’s struggling. It’s not a sign that the person is weak, or unmotivated.

Getting Help: Connecting an employee with mental health care has never been easier than it is today. It’s likely that your employees have insurance benefits. If this is the case, with mental health parity, medical insurance will cover mental health issues. This typically means minimal out-of-pocket cost for the employee.

Partner with a Local Counseling Practice: Many counseling practices would love to be your go-to referral source for mental health counseling. In addition, many have (or would be willing to produce) low cost (or free) materials and trainings to educate your staff and management about mental health issues.

Yearly Review: Make mental health education a yearly review process, similar to annual trainings your business might already have for issues like cultural sensitivity, medical credentialing, sexual harassment, confidentiality or specific human resources policies.


i — 
ii — 

Anthony Centore, Ph.D., is private practice consultant for the ACA, founder of 
Thriveworks Counseling (with locations in 9 states), and author of the book, How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a licensed counselor in Massachusetts and Virginia. Find him on Twitter at @anthonycentore or @Thriveworks.

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