Creating a Stigma-Free Workplace: 6 Tips to Improve Mental Health

Co-authored by: Hays Health Strategies Consultants Amy Vitale & Cecelia Weir

Although society has made significant strides in recent years to remove the negative association surrounding mental health, research shows many employees will not seek mental health visits due to the stigma and confusion around what mental health entails. In some cases, employees will delay seeking treatment for months or years.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that eight out of ten people suffering from mental illness report feelings of shame and the stigma around mental health prevents them from seeking treatment. During that time, the business impact manifests itself in absenteeism, poor performance, low morale, and additional healthcare costs.

The Drastic Mental Health Shift from COVID-19

  • 96% of survey respondents reported that COVID-19 was affecting their stress level. This is higher than stress numbers reported for 9/11 and the Great Recession.
  • Due to COVID-19-related stress, employees are missing meetings and struggle to collaborate.
  • 47% of adults say they feel that worry or stress related to coronavirus has had a major or minor impact on their mental health.
  • Younger adults and women are most likely to report a negative mental health impact from the pandemic, 69% of women between 18-29 and 54% of men be 18-29 reported a negative impact.
  • When it comes to leadership, 88% of survey respondents indicated that they appreciate when senior leadership discusses mental health; however, only 35% noted that their employer talked about it.
  • Since COVID-19, survey respondents report that half of employers have increased focus on mental health.

The Impact of Poor Mental Health Coverage on Employers

  • Mental illness causes individuals to miss more workdays than any other chronic condition, resulting in an estimated $210.5 billion per year in costs to U.S. employers from depression alone.
  • Each year,  one in five adults in the U.S. experiences some type of mental illness, according to data released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • Nearly three-quarters of workers say they want their employers to champion mental health and well-being in the workplace. This is rated as more important than equality (48 percent), sustainability (38 percent) and diversity (31 percent) (Peldon Rose)
  • Cases of dramatically reduced productivity on the job, also known as presenteeism, due to depression are rising much sharply than absenteeism—suggesting that many are showing up but keeping their problems to themselves (American Productivity Audit)

According to the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, “80 percent of employees treated for mental illness report improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.” In essence, a mentally healthy workforce is linked to lower medical costs, as well as less absenteeism. Employers should ensure that they have the resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.

Evaluating Current Mental Health Benefits

Employers should evaluate their current mental health benefits to ensure they are sufficient for employee care by asking insurers these questions:

  • Do they offer readily accessible mental health information through employee educational programs, their website or self-screening tools?
  • Do they have a toll-free number for your employees to call for help with personal, family or work issues?
  • Are there available, in-network providers who are trained to screen for mental illness and treat depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders?
  • Can they integrate their services with your EAP, disease management and disability benefits? Integration results in better coordination of care for employees and can save employers time, effort and money.
  • Can employees easily afford needed medication through your pharmaceutical benefits?

In order to encourage a mentally healthy workforce, employers should build a culture that is as stigma-free as possible, encouraging people to seek help rather than hide their stress and pain.

Some efforts could include educating employees about the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders and regularly hosting seminars about stress, workload and work-life balance.

Tips to Support Mental Well-being in Your Organization

  1. Create a quiet space for meditation/relaxation. By designating a physical space in your workplace to promote mental health, you are sending the message that your organization truly supports taking the time for self-care.
  2. Have an Awareness Campaign. It is difficult to change when you don’t know what you don’t know. By actively engaging in the conversation, you are helping to create a culture where mental health can be positively addressed.
  3. Highlight Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) Resources
  4. Avoid Loaded Language. The stigma around mental health can unconsciously be perpetuated by terminology that has a “negative” societal connotation. Consider re-naming mental health campaigns to be less stigmatized (for example, a happiness check-in versus mental health assessment).
  5. Explore Telemedicine Solutions such as Talkspace Online Therapy or Crisis Text Line. In today’s day and age where most interactions are facilitated by a screen, some individuals can be more comfortable talking about their feelings when they do not have to be face-to-face with a professional. Offering telemedicine solutions to your employees may make them more likely to seek treatment.
  6. Contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness for more resources to support your organization.Your mental health solutions do not have to be a massive time and energy sink. Simple changes to the way your organization talks about mental health can make a huge difference, especially in the way your culture supports mental health.

There is no better time to recommit to positively addressing the culture of mental health in your organization by destigmatizing the phrase and creating healthy dialogue. For more information on mental health benefits, contact us today.