Employers Should be Proactive with Mental Health Issues

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

The mind/body connection is undeniable. People who have untreated mental health issues use more general health services than those who are successfully treated for mental health concerns. That translates to dramatic, and sometimes unnecessary, increases in your health care premiums and medical expenses.

It is estimated that in any given year, one in five adults will experience symptoms of a mental illness such as depression. Furthermore, 72 percent of people with a mental illness are working. Stress and depression are consistently ranked among the top issues facing today’s workplace.

In many workplaces, stress is a growing concern for workers compensation claims. Depression is actually the second-leading cause of disability.

According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) only half of all people who do have symptoms of a mental illness seek help. A survey by the University of Michigan Depression Center indicates that 89 percent of employees diagnosed with depression have mental health coverage but 75 percent delay getting care, and 36 percent receive only partial treatment.

The most common reasons people delay or fail to seek help are: belief that it will affect their career advancement opportunities, fear of information not remaining confidential, misunderstanding symptoms, confusion about accessing services and challenges with ability to pay for services due to higher co-pays and visit limits.

If left untreated, depression and other mental illnesses can have a devastating impact on business. In fact, more than 90 percent of employees say mental health and personal problems spill over into their jobs, yet the majority of employees will not acknowledge a mental health concern because they think it will prevent them from advancing in their career.

Bringing it closer to home, research tells us that a Milwaukee company with 500 employees will have 22 employees at any given time who are struggling with depression. If untreated, these employees will have medical costs ranging from $2,000 to $3,000 higher than other employees and will be absent or have unproductive workdays equivalent to 30 to 50 days per year.

Current data clearly supports the case that employers benefit financially from paying more attention to their staff members’ mental health needs. The key is to recognize symptoms early and to encourage the employees to obtain appropriate treatment. In the workplace, depression may be recognized by the following symptoms: decreased productivity; morale problems; lack of cooperation; safety risks and increases in accidents; absenteeism; frequent statements about being tired; complaints of unexplained aches and pains; and alcohol and drug abuse.

Many employers care and want to do the right thing but don’t know the next step once a troubled employee is identified. As a business manager, you can:

  • • Learn about depression and where to get help.
  • • Familiarize yourself with your company’s health benefits. Find out if your company has an employee assistance program (EAP) that can provide onsite consultation or refer employees to local resources.
  • • Recognize when an employee shows signs of a problem affecting performance.
  • • When a previously productive employee begins to be absent or tardy frequently, or is unusually forgetful and error-prone, he/she may be experiencing a significant health problem.
  • • Discuss changes in work performance with the employee.

Many depressed employees do not need any accommodations, but employers should recognize there may be a need for a flexible work schedule during treatment. Find out about your company’s policy by contacting your human resources expert.

Remember that severe depression may be life-threatening to the employee, but rarely to others. If an employee makes a statement like "life is not worth living," take the threat seriously. Immediately call an EAP counselor or other specialist and seek advice on how to handle the situation.

Many corporations across the country report that promoting mental health as part of an overall wellness campaign has resulted in reduced health expenses and other financial gains for their organizations.

Establishing an emotionally healthy workplace is good for the bottom line. Workplace initiatives do not have to be costly or extreme. You can take steps today by assessing your health care benefit coverage or placing an article in an employee newsletter or even placing a poster in a break area.

Any effort to recognize and address mental health and stress can allow an organization to perform at a higher level. It keeps companies and their employees working and working well.

There are a number of resources available that can help an organization implement a healthy workplace. The National Business Group on Health recently released their Employer’s Health Guide. The findings and recommendations are a roadmap for businesses to evaluate, design and implement mental health friendly workplaces.

The Healthy Mind Connection, a collaborative effort between the Mental Health Association in Milwaukee County and the business community, provides education, tools and resources to address mental health in the workplace. For more information, contact the Mental Health Association at (414) 276-3122.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

No posts to display