It’s Good Business to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

Marcas Miles

Marcas Miles, MA
Senior Director, Marketing & Communications, Employers Health

The stigma that come with mental health issues present harmful barriers to care in many capacities, but they’re particularly detrimental in the workplace, where Americans spend a great deal of their time.

Few people are comfortable discussing depression and other mental health problems with their colleagues. Yet, ineffectively treated, depression remains an issue that leads to employees failing to get needed care, widespread loss of productivity, and short-term disability claims for employers.

Employers Health works with companies to provide high-quality health benefits that aide in overall employee health and well-being. To measure the issue of depression in the workplace, we helped bring the Impact of Depression at Work Audit (IDeA) to the U.S. after its successful execution in a total of sixteen other countries since 2012.

Existing employer programs aren’t enough

IDeA (which surveyed employees to measure the societal and economic burden of depression at work) offered some revealing findings, but more importantly, it affirmed many things that we already knew.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said they’d been diagnosed with depression in their lifetime and nearly 40 percent of those patients reported taking an average of 10 days off per year as a result of their diagnosis. That’s two work weeks per year lost to the disease. In addition, 64 percent of respondents said their symptoms affected their ability to perform tasks at work, which impacted their productivity.

Fifty-eight percent of employees surveyed who’d been diagnosed with depression indicated they had not told their employer about their diagnosis, with 49 percent believing that doing so would put their job at risk.

We also found that utilization of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), programs designed to help employees deal with personal and/or psychological problems, typically remained low. So while many are suffering from mental health issues, large percentages are failing to take advantage of resources at their disposal. The reasons for this lack of usage include: people don’t know or want to admit that they’re depressed; they’re afraid it will adversely affect their employment status; they’re embarrassed; or, sadly, they don’t know where to seek help.

A similar study, recently executed in the UK and released by AXA PPP Healthcare, also revealed startling data: 69 percent of senior business managers and owners don’t believe stress, anxiety or depression are serious enough reasons for employees to take off work.

Clearly, depression in the workplace is a major issue. Many employees don’t feel comfortable discussing it with their employers, and many employers don’t take mental health issues seriously enough.

Partnering with business on a solution

To combat this problem, Employers Health partnered with the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health to create Right Direction. A first-of-its-kind, workplace depression awareness initiative, Right Direction is designed to provide companies with free tools to address and manage the effects of depression for employees.

The campaign offers a host of resources for employers, from PowerPoint presentations and newsletter content to posters and reminder items. The visuals are friendly, and the messaging conveys the real effects and multi-faceted symptoms of depression. These materials help raise awareness about how depression might be affecting employees and their ability to be productive when at work, as well as encourage people to seek the help they need.

The program is also customizable, so each company can implement it in a way that resonates with its individual culture. Take Zappos!, for example. In addition to using the collateral materials, the organization held a mental health awareness fair for employees, showcasing Right Direction as well as other ideas and activities that employees could take advantage of, including yoga classes and animal adoption opportunities. Dublin, Ohio’s OCLC, a global non-profit library cooperative, has gone with a quieter approach, implementing it as an arm of its “building blocks of well-being” program. Additionally, Kent State University has worked very closely with its EAP, Impact Solutions, to undertake a broad rollout approach, which has yielded great success.

Since Right Direction launched in 2013, Clare Miller, my counterpart from the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, and I have participated in 42 conferences and engagements to spread the word about the initiative, and a countless number of organizations have implemented it. Clearly, there’s a significant need for this kind of intervention.

As the research illustrates, we have a long way to go before mental health challenges are more positively addressed in the workplace. But with Right Direction, we’re starting to move the needle. It’s time we start talking about this important topic and put the stigma to rest – permanently.

You can learn more about Right Direction at
Your Turn

  • What programs does your employer offer to support quality mental health?
  • How would you support a co-worker who disclosed they had a mental health condition that was affecting their performance?


Marcas Miles is a senior communications, marketing & public relations professional with 16+ years of progressive experience. He has spent most of his career in the healthcare and workforce development sectors. A national thought leader in addressing depression in the workplace and improving worker productivity, he has broad experience in assisting employers to leverage health benefits to improve cost, quality and accessibility of high-value healthcare services. He works to establish relationships with decision makers and other healthcare purchasers and influencers and has an excellent grasp of the challenges faced by today’s human resource and benefits professionals.

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