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Every May since 1949 has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. But for people with mental health problems, their condition isn’t limited to one-twelfth of the calendar. Unfortunately, many employers have little or no strategy when it comes to addressing mental health problems in the workplace. Here are some of the top things employers need to know to help their employees – and their business – stay healthy.
Mental health issues are very common
The WHO reports that some kind of mental or neurological disorder will afflict one in four people around the world at some point in their lives. All types of people – high-flyers, old hands, introverts and extroverts – can be affected, and it’s not always obvious on the surface. There are probably a few people in your firm who have struggled with mental health issues – in fact, there may well be more than you realize.
Employees with mental health issues aren’t a burden
Yes, mental health problems can interfere with work sometimes. But practically everyone’s got something going on in their life that can get in the way from time to time. And while mental health issues might mean a person needs a little help and support now and again, those who suffer from them are much more than their condition. Indeed, they bring a valuable perspective to the table.
After all, if one in four people suffer from some form of mental disorder in their lives, then some of your clients or stakeholders will, too. Building a diverse workforce isn’t just about race or gender, and it isn’t just a politically correct checkbox exercise either – it’s about bringing many different voices and outlooks to the table, which will help you understand the variety of ways your clients see the world in turn.
Mental health is covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act
Since 1990, protections for those with mental health problems have been enshrined in law in the form of the ADA.
Firstly, the ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against people on the grounds of a disability – which can include a mental health condition. This includes when hiring, as well as in promotions, pay and entitlements, and access to other workplace rights and opportunities.
The ADA Act also requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for those with mental health conditions. The obligations here will depend on the situation but could include flexible work schedules, working from home, a change of manager to someone the employee is comfortable with, or even something as simple as allowing an employee to wear headphones at work to block out distractions.
Scheduling mental health appointments aren’t easy
While for many physical conditions it can be fairly easy to arrange a doctor’s appointment without much notice, that isn’t always the case when it comes to mental health. It's not common for psychiatrists, therapists or other mental health professionals to offer time outside of regular office hours, so it’s important to give employees a bit of flexibility. That way they can get the help they need when they need it.
Helping your employees will help your business
Of course, many employers will want to help their employees for the sake of common decency. There’s also a more hard-headed reason for creating a welcoming and supportive environment at work. Some of your most talented employees may suffer from mental health conditions, and you want to make help them stay at their best.
In a fascinating study entitled ‘Making the business case for enhanced depression care’, Wang et al found that, in 12 months, certain targeted interventions (in this case telephone outreach, care management, and optional therapy) led to significant improvements in talent retention and hours worked among employees.
Starting a conversation is key
It’s not true that 'what you don’t know won’t hurt you' – rather, what you don’t know, you can’t fix. A Harvard Medical School review notes that while mental health problems can sometimes lead to absenteeism, the biggest cost to business is in lost productivity. But lost productivity is harder to notice than an employee simply not showing up – if your employee’s output is decreasing in quality or quantity, it might not be obvious why. Why not reach out and ask if everything is ok?
Remember, many employees may not find mental health issues easy to talk about. Mental health issues still carry a stigma – and a lot of people are uncomfortable discussing them or even admitting to them, particularly if they’re uncertain whether or not they will be heard. But starting a conversation today could be the first step in helping out one of your employees – and protecting your business’ productivity in the process.