The Importance Of Understanding And Recognizing Mental Health Issues At Work

7 mins read

Over the past 50 years, society has made great strides to de-stigmatize many physical and genetic conditions. Educational efforts have helped many people understand conditions like Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy that were previously misunderstood. Yet, through leading a company that provides behavioral health solutions, I’ve seen that when it comes to showing compassion and understanding for those with mental illness, we still have plenty of work to do.

More than half of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment for their conditions, which means that for every person receiving help for conditions like anxiety or depression, there is another individual who is struggling with a condition they might not fully understand without professional assistance. Too often we stigmatize mental illness, which marginalizes those who are suffering and can prevent them from seeking help.

Frequently, I’ve found our society acts as if mental health problems are a sign of character weakness or a personal flaw, rather than very real, diagnosable, and treatable illnesses that require medical attention just like any physical condition. Disparities that already exist in healthcare due to race, social class, and ethnicity are amplified by stigmatization, thus making healthcare even more inaccessible for those individuals who need it the most.

My company’s solutions help quantify and manage depression and anxiety, so I’ve also seen the medical system often fails to properly identify and diagnose depression and anxiety. Individual symptoms are so commonplace that it can be challenging to connect the dots. It is easy to mistake signs of emotional distress with physical problems, as human emotions live in the body and can manifest in a multitude of ways.

In younger people, for example, mental health conditions are not always expected or investigated as vigorously, which can lead to delays in diagnosis and care. Symptoms like hyperactivity or tantrums might be written off as normal childhood experiences, but from my perspective, they should not be ignored if they are occurring repeatedly or intensely. Potential symptoms may also be overlooked in seniors if they are written off as a symptom of cognitive decline or aging.

Since the mind is intimately connected to the body, untreated mental health conditions can have a profound impact on physical health. According to the American Heart Association, “Depression and negative psychological health conditions are associated with a less healthy heart and body … improving psychological health can lead to a healthier heart and healthier body.”

The ramifications extend into the business world, as employees with untreated mental illness are prone to absenteeism and presenteeism. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. And if businesses are self-insured, they could be paying more when mental health is not addressed.

A recent report by Mental Health America also found that only 5% of employees strongly agreed their employer provides a safe environment for employees who live with mental illness. Businesses can take steps to prioritize emotional well-being for employees by:

Educate yourself on the signs of mental health conditions.

Managers can arm themselves with tools to recognize signs of mental health conditions in employees. This includes training on the most common symptoms of depression and anxiety and encouraging managers to look at patterns of performance and attendance. A number of companies (my own included) also provide digital health tools to help companies measure the behavioral pulse of the workplace.

Once high-risk employees are identified, organizations can then provide aid with an employee assistance program. These are a “work-based intervention program designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting their performance at work,” the Society for Human Resource Management said.

Offer resources.

To help employees improve their coping skills, businesses can offer digital therapy and health solutions, but they should also provide employees with education and information about mental health services. Organizations can promote both physical and emotional wellness by implementing wellness programs that prioritize exercise. A study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression.

Provide benefits.

Companies need to normalize the use of “mental health days” and provide liberal time off for mental health conditions. The pandemic has led many businesses to reevaluate employee benefits, and 53% of respondents to a survey from the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions reported providing special emotional and mental health programs for their workforce. Organizations can also pay for employees’ fee-for-service therapy or offer health plans that include robust mental health coverage.

Now is the time for society to view mental health conditions like any other disease, address mental health stigmas and make emotional wellness a high priority. As a result, I believe businesses could have a more dedicated and content workforce, which would then lead to increased productivity, less employee churn, and improved employee loyalty and public image.

Source: Forbes Business Council

By: Mainul Mondal, Co-Founder & CEO at Ellipsis Health

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