One in five adults will experience a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year – and more than half will go untreated. While the pandemic exacerbated the behavioral health crisis in the U.S., the issue has been growing for years. Prior to the pandemic, employers were making efforts to ensure behavioral health care was more accessible to workers. Now, the need for integrated mental health practices in the workplace is more important than ever.
A Business Case for Mental Health Support
Mental health has a big impact on a person’s physical health: individuals diagnosed with a chronic condition are twice as likely to have a behavioral health condition – and vice versa. Those individuals with untreated depression and a chronic illness pay $560 more a month in average health care costs than individuals who have a chronic disease alone. The combination of untreated behavioral health concerns and a chronic condition can impact employees at work in the form of decreased engagement and productivity, as well as increased absenteeism.
How to Be an Ally
Supporting employees and co-workers can mean more than offering treatment options and resources. Being an ally – someone who is not a member of a marginalized group but takes actions to support that group – can make a big difference to employees who feel underrepresented or in the minority in the workplace. Often, marginalized groups are vulnerable to anxiety, depression, trauma disorders and poor physiological health due to conditions they feel they must accept at work because they are underrepresented. Here are some ways to be an ally at work:
- Amplify good ideas of coworkers by giving them credit
- Build up other coworkers by talking about their expertise in team meetings, and recommend them for opportunities
- Create a communications code of conduct for meetings so all workers have a chance to be heard
- Ensure specific, technical questions are directed to the employee with direct expertise
- Listen and ask questions if someone has an experience that’s different than your own
- Look for opportunities for members of underrepresented groups including women and people of color to serve as panelists, speakers at events or in the workplace, or invite them to career-building opportunities
- Speak up about degrading and offensive behavior or speech during office interactions
Leadership on Mental Health Matters
Looking for help for a behavioral health issue like substance use disorder or anxiety and depression is difficult, especially if a person is worried about how they’ll be perceived at work and among their friends and family. Leaders in the workplace play a powerful role in breaking down stigma: 62% of employees said that if someone in a leadership role at work spoke openly about mental health, they would feel more comfortable talking about it themselves. Here are some other ways leaders can integrate mental health resources in the workplace:
- Lunchtime webinars
- New hire orientations
- Ongoing speaker series
- Training for workplace influencers
Mental Health Supports in the Era of Remote Employees
On-site amenities like access to clinicians and counselors are a great way to offer mental health support in the workplace. But as some job sectors have become increasingly more reliant on remote work, employers must think digitally when it comes to offering resources to employees. Here are some ways employers could integrate supports by offering discounted or subsidized access for remote workers through employer assistance programs:
- Telehealth services for behavioral health: Employees can access professionals offering evidence-based, cognitive behavioral therapy through online portals that securely offer audio, video and instant message counseling sessions.
- Virtual care smartphone apps: Applications can help workers with their sleep habits, mental resiliency and meditation practices.
- Virtual wellbeing services, including yoga classes.
Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. More from MIBluesPerspectives:
- Basic Self-Care for Leaders
- How to Find a Good Substance Use Disorder Treatment Facility
- Is Stigma Affecting Men’s Mental Health?
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