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Mental illness isn’t a far-off issue that “someone else” suffers from—those people are right next to you, every day.

mental-health-at-workYour neighbor, your coworker, your best friend that never said anything. An estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older—about 1 in 4 adults, suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Additionally, many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a time. Particularly, depressive illnesses tend to co-occur with anxiety disorders.

Despite the fact that there are numerous medications and therapies on the market, only half of people with mental health difficulties ever receive treatment.  

Why? There are a couple reasons. One would be the lack of access or the cost of care. The other reason is less quantifiable—it’s the negative stigma surrounding mental health. In our State of Workplace Empathy study, we found 80% of employees, HR professionals, and CEOs say companies portray people negatively if they have a mental health issue. In half of the US states, admitting to a history of mental illness can lead to the inability to serve on a jury, run for office or even lose custody of a child.

Because of this stigma, many of those suffering from mental illness won’t seek treatment or talk about their struggles. This can lead to loss of productivity at work, a higher risk for other health problems, higher healthcare costs and higher risk of suicide.

Employers can no longer sweep mental illness under the rug. Here are some key solutions employers can do to break the stigma and help those employees suffering from poor mental health:

  1. Communication. Communicating mental health benefits offerings is one step employers can take to reach employees who are suffering. Many employees are not aware of their employer provided options. May is mental health awareness month, which could be the perfect time to set up a communication campaign to send out an email or put out posters to remind employees what their mental health benefits are.
  2. Empathetic workplace. Creating a workplace environment that is empathetic and non-judgmental is important to break the mental health stigma. Provide training to leaders on what signs to look out for and teach them how to talk about mental health with their employees. Many people simply don’t know what to say. A short lunch and learn session that describes the different mental illnesses out there and how to approach someone who might be suffering can be a great first step.
  3. Flexible work schedules. Many who suffer from mental illness don’t feel comfortable sharing when they need to take time off or if they need a break from the daily grind. By allowing employees to work from home when they need or encouraging a flexible work schedule, not necessarily 9-5 you can help support those that might need an alternative schedule to succeed.

In the spirit of breaking down stigmas, I recorded this video discussing my own struggles with depression and poor mental health. Getting leaders involved in breaking the stigma is key to building better mental health in the workplace. It’s important for employees to not feel alone and know that they have support from their peers and leaders in the workplace.


If you'd like more information on how to increase empathy at your workplace to better address mental health issues, read our white paper below.

The business case for mental health support

View all Posts by Dave Plorins