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Mental Health Matters: Why Companies Should Care

Published on November 7, 2018, at 4:25 p.m.
by McClelland Schilling.

The past decade has been revolutionary for the mental health movement. People are finally having open discussions about the topic and embracing mental illness instead of stigmatizing it and shaming those who suffer. While we have come a long way from where we started, there are still some barriers that need to be addressed. The largest hurdle we have yet to overcome is how mental illness is dealt with in the workplace.

When you catch a cold or find yourself sick with the flu, informing your employer that you won’t be coming into the office is often no big deal. But for those who struggle with illnesses such as depression and anxiety, this is not an easy task. Most will hesitate even calling in sick, because they may be embarrassed or worried their employer will condemn them. Those who do call in will most likely lie to avoid the potentially awkward conversation of explaining their real reasoning.

Photo by Milan Popovic on Unsplash

With over 40 million Americans living with a mental health condition, this is an issue that companies can no longer ignore. Luckily, many have begun taking action. In 2017, a survey conducted by Willis Towers Watson reported that 88 percent of U.S. employers want to make mental health a priority over the next three years.

Barclays took initiative in 2014 with the release of its “This is Me” campaign. The campaign featured employees and various aspects of their personal lives. Nearly 200 stories were shared in an effort to embrace an open discussion of mental health and to challenge the stigma surrounding it.

Unilever also made efforts to show its commitment to the well-being of its employees by conducting three-hour workshops for line managers to help them learn the signs of mental health distress. These workshops provide managers with the knowledge to help direct employees in need to proper resources.

Some organizations have even gone to the extent of implementing on-site programs to help employees deal with mental health and stress throughout the workday. CHG Healthcare staffs full-time male and female counselors on its campus, and Rent the Runway built meditation rooms into its new headquarters to give its employees a space to clear their thoughts.

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While investments like employee training and large campaigns are impressive and helpful, sometimes the smallest efforts can have the biggest impact, like a little encouragement from upper management. In June 2017, a tweet that featured an email correspondence between Madalyn Parker and her CEO went viral because of the outpouring of support given to Parker when she expressed she needed to take time off to focus on her mental health

If the overall well-being of employees isn’t enough to motivate a company to invest in mental health initiatives, the impact on the company’s bottom line should. Productivity in the workplace is usually affected by absenteeism (skipping work completely) or presenteeism (being present at work but unable to work at full capacity due to underlying issues). The combination is indirectly costing employers between $80 to $100 billion.

At the end of the day, an organization is only as strong as its workforce, and a strong workforce is built on the foundation of happy and healthy employees. As open discussions of mental illness continue to surface, companies will want to be at the forefront of the conversation. Organizational leaders must pave the way for encouraging and supportive work environments where mental illness isn’t stigmatized, but instead, it is embraced.

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