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October 6, 2014

Making Mental Health Your Business

Summary:

Framing efforts with employees based on recognized days is a great way to start -- and Oct. 9 is National Depression Screening Day.

Photo Courtesy of Rob n Rae Cornelius

One of the most undertreated and misunderstood mental illnesses in the workplace is depression. The mood disorder is more than a passing feeling and is a major—but treatable—illness. Depression affects all walks of life and even a formerly outstanding employee can be affected. No job title, organization, or personality type is immune.

It is likely that you, and every employee in your place of work, know someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, alcohol or maybe even an eating disorder.  In fact, it is estimated that about one-third of those with a mental illness are employed. Nearly a quarter of the U.S. workforce (28 million workers ages 18-54) will experience a mental or substance abuse disorder, according to the National Institute on Mental Illness.

How can employers address this issue? Early intervention and prevention programs can be fundamental in preventing progress toward a full-blown disease, controlling symptoms of mental illness and improving outcomes. Anonymous online screenings are an effective way to reach employees who underestimate the effects of their own condition and are unaware of helpful resources. A screening program can also work well for small organizations that lack official employee assistance program (EAP) services. Quality mental health programs for employees can reduce stigma, raise awareness, teach managers how to recognize symptoms and help organizations deal with depression and effectively and compassionately manage employees.

How should employers address mental health in the workplace? Framing prevention efforts in light of nationally recognized days is a great starting point. Oct. 9 is National Depression Screening Day (NDSD), which is a day to promote education and awareness of common mental health disorders. This year, NDSD will focus on viewing and treating mental health with the same gravity as physical health. Your organization may provide free blood pressure screenings, or encourage weight-loss support groups. Treating mental health with the same importance as physical health reinforces that your workplace is one devoted to overall health of your employees.

Encouraging a Mentally Healthy Workplace

In addition to highlighting nationally recognized days, the following are several areas to consider when making your workplace mental health-friendly.

  • Employee wellness programs that incorporate mental health
  • Manager training in mental health workplace issues
  • Support for employees who seek mental health treatment or who require hospitalization and disability leave
  • An EAP or other appropriate referral resource
  • Health care that treats mental illness with the same urgency as physical illness
  • Regular communication to employees regarding equal opportunity employment, wellness and similar topics promoting an accepting work environment

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Taskforce has additional information and resources. Promoting National Depression Screening Day is a great way to introduce mental health topics with your workforce. From employee morale to the company’s bottom line, mental health can affect all areas of the workplace. When the mental health of one employee is made a priority, the entire organization will benefit.

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About the Author

Candice Porter is executive director of screening for Mental Health. She is a licensed independent clinical social worker and has more than a decade of experience working in public and private settings. She also serves on the Workplace Taskforce under the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

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