The Right Way to Handle Employees' Mental Health Issues

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a day created with the objective of raising awareness and support for mental health issues.  In light of that, we decided that this is the perfect time to discuss the best way to handle mental illness in the workplace.

Unfortunately, there's often a stigma associated with mental illness.  As a result, many employers fail to develop a comprehensive plan for addressing the issue.  However, because mental health problems are linked to reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and higher health care costs, it's important for employers to take this issue seriously.

To that end, here are some suggestions for dealing with mental health issues in the workplace:

  • Educate.  Teach employees about signs and symptoms of mental illness.  People tend to assume that mental illness is rare or unusual, when in fact, it's actually pretty common.  Approximately 1 in 5 Americans have a diagnosable mental illness.  The better educated employees are about mental illness, the more likely they'll be able to recognize—and respond appropriately—to mental health issues in the workplace.

  • Invest.  If possible, offer mental health benefits to employees.  Although this may initially sound cost-prohibitive, mental health and substance abuse issues may be more costly not to treat.  According to the Center for Prevention and Health, these issues cost employers between $79 and $105 billion each year.

  • Encourage.  Some corporate cultures foster “workplace warrior” attitudes where employees are expected to regularly put long hours in, be available around the clock, and are lauded for never taking vacation.  The stress and long hours associated with this type of corporate culture only exacerbates mental health problems.

    Rather than praising your employees for their long hours, promote work-life balance by: developing reasonable expectations for email responses; insisting employees take vacation; and encouraging employees not to put in long hours on a regular basis.