Mental health care in the workplace & how employers can help
In the wake of the devastating tragedy in the French Alps this month where one man’s struggle with depression brought down a 144-passenger Germanwings plane, concerns and questions arise across all industries about measures companies can take to manage the mental health of their employees. In situations where the employee’s mental instability threatens the safety of others, as in the Lufthansa crash, the employer could face unlimited liability.
According to research by All One Health, in any given year, nearly 30 million American adults suffer from depression and twice that many from anxiety disorders. These numbers are costing U.S. employers billions of dollars per year in lost productivity.
The social stigma of mental health problems means workers are reluctant to admit their suffering. But if a company intends to be proactive about integrating mental health into their wellness programs alongside physical health, employees must feel they can have a confidential discussion (about anything from stress management to suicidal thoughts) with their employer or HR representative, and HR should be prepared to receive them. Forbes reports, companies should be educated in dealing with mental health issues in the same way that employees undergo diversity training. Employers should also be familiar with the legality of mental health screenings and testing for more severe cases. All in all, diagnosing issues early and fostering a culture where employees feel supported and safe enough to speak freely will go far in removing the stigma on mental health and ensuring a healthy workplace.
All One Health suggests way of opening up a conversation with a subordinate or colleague about mental health. As the listener and spectator, ensure your discussions are:
- Judgment free;
- Observation based;
- Expressing concern for the individual and his or her work performance;
- Allowing for colleague to respond confidentially.
Verbally, the advisor should not agree with delusions or hallucinations, but do not try to convince the individual that his or her beliefs are incorrect either. Proactive planning and being vigilant with employees will help generate a comfortable and safe working environment.
About the Author
Catherine Daley is a Vice President at WGA and a member of the Employee Benefits Practice. She uses her knowledge within the human resources and employee benefits area to help clients analyze, strategize and implement effective employee benefit programs designed to meet clients’ strategic needs and goals.