Business Two-for-One. Supporting the Mental Health of Employees Improves Profits.

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

For employers seeking to reduce the financial and human costs of mental health issues, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Understanding the role that mental health plays in the workplace runs deeper than the altruism of wanting to be certain that employees are treated fairly, have a healthy work environment, and find their work fulfilling and meaningful. The economic costs of under-treated or untreated mental health conditions in the workplace are alarming. According to Thomas Insel, former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, “The economic costs of mental illness will be more than cancer, diabetes and respiratory ailments put together.”

Major depressive disorder alone cost the U.S. $210 billion per year. Direct treatment costs represent only 45-47% of that total cost; a full 48-50% was due to lost productivity, absenteeism, and disability, while another 5% consisted of costs associated with employee suicides.

When the role of depression in aggravating comorbid medical conditions (heart disease, drug use, diabetes, asthma, etc.) is factored in, an estimated $6.60 is the excess cost for every dollar spent on direct treatment costs. Unfortunately, although one in five Americans will experience a mental health condition any year, it is estimated that only about one-third of people who need mental health care actually receive it. Given these staggering statistics, it makes good economic sense for employers to create workplaces that promote and improve the mental health of their employees.

Working together to find a solution
To address this challenge, a consortium of civic and business leaders convened to begin the dialogue and build a network of working professionals dedicated to the idea of creating mentally healthy workplaces and reducing the barriers that can keep employees from accessing care. The project coalesced around six summits and had more than 60 participants from over 40 organizations. The results of this work was the Working Well. Leading a Mentally Healthy Business toolkit, published in March 2016. The principles underlying an appropriate and effective corporate response to mental health issues in the workplace are articulated in this conceptual toolkit and can act as a guide for executives.

There are four basic principles embedded in the toolkit promoted by NAMI-NYC and its partners (the Northeast Business Group on Health, the Kennedy Forum, and the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health/American Psychiatric Association Foundation, and PricewaterhouseCoopers). These are as follows:

  1. Know the impact.
  2. Break the silence.
  3. Deliver affordable access.
  4. Build a culture of well-being.

Deploying these principles in the workplace can be an effective starting point towards encouraging access to mental health care with the goal of creating an environment characterized by awareness, acceptance, prevention, and recovery.

The good news – for both employers and employees – is that mental health treatment works an estimated 80% of the time when methods such as talk therapy, peer support, and medication are utilized. The toolkit provides concrete steps that businesses can take to support their employees in accessing all evidence-based treatment options.

Corporate America is paying attention
Several corporations have taken on the task of addressing mental health in a positive way and diagnosing the impact on their employees and their businesses. Among the case studies summarized in “Working Well” are PPG Industries (which gathered data about depression among employees via its Health Risk Appraisal process) and DuPont (whose “emotional ergonomics” program, launched in Europe, led to the unveiling of “ICU”―Identify, Connect, Understand―in the U.S.). Principle #2 (“Break the silence”) urges companies to affirm their commitment to supporting mental health whenever employee health is discussed.

Businesses can access a broad array of social media and intervention programs now readily available, including

  • Twitter hashtags: #IWILLLISTEN, #Stamp Out Stigma, and #Right Direction
  • DBSA’s I’m here… campaign
  • Families for Depression Awareness “Coping with Stress” training (1-hour webinar on managing stress, anxiety, and depression; getting help; and preventing suicides)
  • Right Direction from Partnership for Workplace Mental Health
  • NAMI’s “In Our Own Voice” program (90-minute facilitated group interactions),
  • Mental Health America’s “Live Your Life Well” (which maintains a workplace wellness portal, online tools, and operational assistance), and
  • Working Minds (designed to raise awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention).

Barriers to accessing quality mental health services do exist. Among them are inadequate provider networks within health insurance plans and consumer misinformation. Tools intended to counter these include Health Risk Appraisals (HRAs), the promotion of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and suggestions on how to improve the design of health insurance benefits to employees.

A genuine workplace culture of well-being and awareness is possible and there are many resources available to help attain it. With a commitment of will and time, corporations can become leaders in the fight to enhance employee productivity and contain the costs derived from non-treatment or under-treatment of mental health concerns. The time is now, and this is entirely within our reach.

Your Turn

  • What can you do to create a more positive mental health workplace environment at your place of employment?
  • How could you share these workplace guidelines with your employer?

Further reading

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