6 Tips for Mental Health In the Workplace

Dr. Joe Thompson Commentary

6 Tips for Mental Health In the Workplace

At the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, we’ve been on the forefront of Arkansas’ pandemic response, assisting the Arkansas Department of Health, employers and community leaders for the past two years. One thing I’ve observed is that we have all been stressed by the pandemic in ways we never expected, and for some the stress has resulted in new challenges. In addition to being a health policy center, ACHI is an employer with 45 dedicated staff members. The majority of their time away from home is spent at work, and they don’t check their health issues, including mental health issues, at the door.

According to a KFF analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 37% of American adults — more than 1 in 3 — reported in a 2020 survey that they had experienced one or more poor mental health days in the past 30 days. In Arkansas, 38% of adults reported having experienced one or more poor mental health days in the past 30 days. That percentage applies to the general population, but it likely also applies to your workforce.

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Mental health issues negatively impact employees’ job performance and productivity, their outlooks, their interactions with each other, and their future value to you and your organization. According to the National Safety Council and NORC at the University of Chicago, employees experiencing mental distress cost employers an average of $4,783 per year per employee in lost work days and an average of $5,733 per year per employee in turnover.

There are things you can do as an employer to elevate mental health as an issue of importance in your workplace and ensure support for the mental health of your employees.

 First and foremost, engage with your leadership team to ensure that they view mental illness no differently from physical illness and recognize that its presence is not because of a person’s weakness or failure to take care of themselves. This stigma can cause people not to seek care when they need it, and it can result in failure to support workers in their times of greatest need.

 Take advantage of opportunities for mental health-related executive training, so your leaders can be supportive of your employees, and consider professional development for all your employees, so they can be supportive of each other.

 Review your insurance policies to ensure adequate coverage of mental health benefits, and your network of providers for sufficient access, meaning that providers are accessible to your employees and geographically located where they can obtain services.

 Review your internal policies to ensure that mental health is a priority and support is in place. Make sure your leave policies support your employees when they seek care. Have employee assistance programs that allow people to get care inside your organization in a confidential, safe and effective way. Provide bereavement and family leave policies, recognizing that over the past two years we’ve had 11,000 Arkansas families lose a loved one to COVID-19.

 Consider creating a worksite space for telehealth, so an individual can obtain remote care without having to sit in their car or other inconvenient location during a break to call for an appointment with a counselor or doctor’s office.

 Finally, consider providing your employees training in Mental Health First Aid, perhaps in a companywide daylong event. Mental Health First Aid is a program that helps to raise the level of discussion, eliminate the stigma and create a safer, healthier, more productive workplace. Visit mentalhealthfirstaid.org for information.

We have come a long way in the past decade in recognizing the impact of mental illness, destigmatizing individuals seeking care, and incorporating support into our insurance coverage. But too many people continue to suffer in silence, and the isolation and stressors of the pandemic have made it worse for countless more. These are our friends, our neighbors and our coworkers. As employers, you have an opportunity to ensure support is available for your employees and your worksite is a place of safety.

Dr. Joe Thompson is president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and was Arkansas' surgeon general under Govs. Mike Huckabee and Mike Beebe.