Mental Health in the Workplace
While workplaces today might spend a lot of time thinking about the physical safety and wellbeing of their employees, many still lack any kind of provisions for the mental health of their employees. Preparing for mental health situations can be difficult since they can manifest in a number of different ways, but, since around 70% of people with the most common mental disorders are working, it is something employers shouldn't ignore. As well as costing employers money for missed days and decreased productivity, compromised mental health can lead to accidents in the workplace and contribute toward an unsafe work environment overall. Further difficulty is encountered because unlike a sprained back which can be easily identified and accommodated, the stigma surrounding mental disorders can often render them invisible in the workplace-and when employers do encounter them they don't know what to do. How can this change?
Be aware that mental health issues are already a problem. According to an international study of ten countries, ADHD effects 3.5% of employees who in turn lose 22 days a year to sick days and lost productivity. Similarly, an approximate 6% of the population suffer from anxiety disorders during their lifetime and 6% experience depression in a given year; when it comes to the most costly health conditions for employers, depression is first and anxiety is fifth. If you didn't think mental health was a concern in your workplace and aren't making significant effort to combat mental health problems, it is more likely that you have attributed the problem to other sources. Once again, the difficulty is in the invisibility: 75% of people experiencing mental health problems aren't getting any help at all. While this may be the result of not knowing there is a problem, often it is a fear of repercussions and embarrassment if they seek the help they need.
Investing in mental health has financial returns. Certainly it would be a horrible thing if you only cared about your employees' mental health because of the financial return, or indeed any aspect of their health and safety, but it should be noted that there is a return. Businesses lose a good chunk of money every year when employees aren't treated for their mental health problems. Being in environments that don't accommodate their needs or having employers who hound them to return to work can counteract any treatment employees are receiving and lead to negative results. Just like any other illness or injury, mental health disorders take time to treat and sometimes mean altering the way an employee works whilst they deal with the issue. Pushing an employee to work in a way that compromises their mental health isn't productive for anyone.
For stress and anxiety related disorders especially, there is a lot an employer can do preemptively to make sure employees are maintaining good mental health; for example, creating boundaries between the work-week and time-off, and making sure employees are taking the breaks they need. Furthermore, employers can help employees identify any mental health problems to make sure they are treated early on, either by bringing in health care professionals to perform private evaluations or sending employees private evaluations to do on their own. Notice how I said "private" twice? Remember, even when trying to create an open culture that mental health care is a sensitive topic and employees have a right to privacy. Encouraging regular personal evaluations and creating policies which allow employees the time-off they need to treat any problems help break down barriers to real mental health in the workplace, making workers happier, healthier, and more productive.
One final word of advice: there is no quick fix for mental health problems in the workplace. Many hazard identifications and working practices are simple; if a chemical is dangerous, label it, if a desk is heavy, don't move it. Mental health doesn't work that way. Mental health requires long-term strategies and constant evaluation. It truly is a learning process but it is one that will help you as much as your employees. Ultimately, stress in the workplace is difficult to avoid, but, negotiating to find the best ways to handle it reaps long-term rewards. Maintaining a constant dialogue with employees to understand the challenges they are having in the workplace and creating an environment in which they can flourish is always going to be worth the investment.