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‘MIND’ Your Own Business: Strategies for Supporting Mental Health at Work

By Bob Brandkamp, MBA, MSW

My last article focused on the impacts of mental health disorders to our businesses and that we need to “mind our own business” by acknowledging that mental health matters in our own businesses.  This article explores some practical strategies that businesses can employ to help those who may have a mental health disorder succeed in the workplace.

Often, Health insurance and employee assistance programs (EAPs) are the first things that come to mind when talking about mental health, as they are common tools that companies have at their disposal to provide support for mental health disorders in the workplace. Although these are important resources, these are just two of the many elements that make up a more holistic approach to supporting employees with mental health disorders.

Mental Health America notes eight key components that are instrumental in supporting mental health at work:

  • Establish guidelines for business conduct – Should include sections on fair and equitable treatment and discrimination in the workplace
  • Provide access to EAPs
  • Offer adequate health insurance coverage which includes coverage for mental health
  • Accommodations – Including opportunities to work from home or flexible hours
  • Develop work-life balance strategies with a goal of reducing illness and absenteeism
  • Discuss mental health at work – Create an environment where employees can be comfortable discussing mental health concerns without fear of discrimination or stigma
  • Offer personal support – Have employer and employees check in on individuals who may be struggling
  • Return to work policy – Create disability and return to work strategies for all employees, including those with mental health disorders.

Note: Smaller companies that may not have the resources to provide insurance and/or EAP benefits can still benefit from pursuing the other components listed above.

A component not listed above –that I feel holds the greatest importance—is the support of mental health from the top-down within the organization, creating a culture that encourages employees to seek out help when they need it. Ironically, this is one of the most inexpensive strategies, but it is also a crucial step in determining the effectiveness of the other strategies to reduce the impact of mental health disorders in the workplace.

Because of the stigma that still surrounds mental health, many employees who have a mental health disorder may suffer in silence. They may not seek treatment in fear that their boss may find out and any future hopes of advancement disappear, or that co-workers find out and bully them for being weak. Having an insurance plan or EAP in place is not enough if people within your organization are afraid to seek treatment. They may not be utilizing these resources because your company does not have an environment where employees feel safe seeking out help.  As noted in my last article, 70% of individuals with a mental health disorder are not receiving treatment.  It’s not only people without insurance that don’t receive treatment, it’s also often the employed that are afraid to seek treatment for reasons like those mentioned above.

“MINDing your own business” starts and ends with you. Communicate frequently to your employees that you value them and their health, both physical and mental.  Normalize the conversation around mental health in your organization so that it doesn’t exist as an uncomfortable topic only whispered about in break rooms. Create an environment where employees feel safe approaching you or other management about issues they may have, mental health or otherwise. These strategies do not cost anything to implement but will pay large dividends in laying the foundation upon which you can overlay other strategies to improve the mental health of your workplace.

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