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February 23, 2015

The Mental Health Disorder Employers Need to Recognize

Summary:

Wellness programs focus on physical health but also must confront eating disorders.

Photo Courtesy of epSos .de

As many employers offer wellness programs, they focus on increasing their employees’ physical health but often neglect to offer any mental health component to their wellness programs. If employers do offer a mental health component to their wellness programs, the focus is usually on depression, the most common mental health issue. Yet, there is a prevalent mental health disorder that affects 30 million Americans and often goes untreated – eating disorders.

Employers that provide incentives for weight loss programs without a mental health component are putting themselves at risk by not being able to detect employees who develop unhealthy eating and exercise habits.

Twenty million women and 10 million men will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).  Research shows that 35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting and, of those, 20% to 25% develop partial or full eating disorders.

There is a common misperception that eating disorders are simply an obsession with eating or dieting. Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. Individuals with anorexia nervosa are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and suicide is the leading cause of death for those with this disorder. Eating disorders also often occur along with other mental illnesses, and approximately 50% to 75% of those with an eating disorder also suffer from major depressive disorder. However, because of the stigma surrounding eating disorders and mental health, only one in 10 will seek treatment.

Mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, need to be viewed and treated like physical illnesses. As with most illnesses, early intervention and detection are the keys to recovery.

How Employers Can Help

  1. Learn the signs and symptoms of eating disorders:
  • Constant adherence to increasingly strict diets, regardless of weight
  • Habitual trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Secretly bingeing on large amounts of food
  • Hoarding large amounts of food
  • Exercising compulsively, often several hours per day
  • Avoidance of meals or situations where food may be present
  • Preoccupation with weight, body size and shape, or specific aspects of one’s appearance
  • Obsessing over calorie intake and calories burned via exercise, even as one may be losing significant amounts of weight

The National Eating Disorder Association provides more information on the types of eating disorders and signs and symptoms. 

Learn the signs and symptoms of suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Stopasuicide.org provides more information on the signs and symptoms of suicide and how to help.

Provide employees tools to check in on their mental health:

  • Online screenings are a great first step toward treatment and offer employees an anonymous, confidential way to learn if they have signs or symptoms of an eating disorder or other mental health disorder.
  •  Online screenings consist of a series of questions designed to indicate whether symptoms of an eating disorder are present. The screenings also includes a question about suicide. If an individual provides a positive answer during this question, a pop-up message appears that provides the individual with emergency resources such as 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline, if needed.
  • After completing the screening, participants receive immediate feedback and referral information to local resources for further information or treatment.

Connect with resources

  • The Workplace Task Force, a component of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, provides support for employers and works with them to implement a comprehensive, public health approach to employee wellness.

The best way to address employee mental health is to ensure it is a key component of any employee wellness program. In addition, employers that publicly show a commitment to employee mental health help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health disorders and increase help-seeking among those suffering.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is Feb, 22-28, providing employers with a great opportunity to increase awareness of eating disorders among their employees. Screening for Mental Health in partnership with the National Eating Disorder Association provides anonymous online mental health screenings at http://mybodyscreening.org/.

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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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