May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Discover the top 7 factors affecting employee mental health and find out what employers or co-workers can do about it.
Over the last year, since the onset of COVID, growing attention has been drawn to mental health. In 2019, studies reported 40 million adults in the US suffer from anxiety disorders each year (www.adaa.org). Additionally, a 2019 CDC report showed 18.5% of adults had symptoms of depression, with symptoms highest among 18–29 year olds (www.cdc.gov).
“During June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation” (www.cdc.gov).
Almost in irony, the CDC reported in Sept. 2020 that among adults ages 18–44 with a diagnosed mental illness, only 18.5% received treatment, and only 20% of those 45 and older did (www.cdc.gov).
Common symptoms of depression include “feelings of sadness, emptiness, or irritability, accompanied by bodily and cognitive changes lasting at least 2 weeks that significantly affect the individual’s capacity to function” (https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm).
Common symptoms of anxiety disorder include “intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time” (www.mayoclinic.org).
How do you know if someone in your workplace might be experiencing mental health challenges? Broadly stated, if someone starts exhibiting behavior that is out of character, something more may be going on than a general performance issue. Watch for some of the following signs that may indicate your employee or co-worker may be struggling with a mental illness.
Maybe you’ve been noticing some of these behaviors in your employees, or maybe even you haven’t felt like yourself in a while. As an employer, team leader, or co-worker, it may be useful to know the potential impact to work productivity from untreated mental health issues - even more helpful, some ideas of what you can do to help boost or preserve employee wellbeing.
Are you noticing performance issues, an increase of employee turnover, or perhaps an increase of employees who simply "no call/no show" when they're expected at work?
After scouring dozens of scholarly articles, we compiled a list of the top 7 reasons for employee turnover - around the world. You might be surprised to see how many could actually be tied to mental health challenges at the base.
What does it mean for your bottom line? A lot.
Global data suggest mental health problems cause a number of employees dropping out of work, with "62% of missed work days being due to a mental health condition" (forbes.com). Employers and businesses feel the effects of mental health-related issues “through increased absenteeism, negative impact on productivity and profits, as well as an increase in costs to deal with the issue. In addition, they impact employee morale adversely” (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). In addition to the direct impact on an employee's state of mind, mental health conditions also impact physical health (e.g. heart disease, sleep apnea, diabetes, and other co-morbidities).
A recent Forbes Magazine article reported, "According to a 2018 study by the American Heart Association, companies lose $17,241 per year in incremental healthcare and productivity costs for each person with major depressive disorder. Unum’s 2019 mental health report demonstrates that mental health issues can have a significant impact on job performance, mainly through lack of focus, irritability, lower productivity, missed work, tension with co-workers and slower career advancement."
Why don't employees seek help or talk about their struggles? The 2019 Unum report revealed that employees don’t divulge their mental health condition, because they're ashamed, concerned about discrimination, or are afraid it will impact their ability to get a desired promotion. Knowing this can help you approach employees with compassion, making it clear that your focus is on their wellbeing.
Employee mental health programs can save companies significant amounts of money, not to mention more difficult-to-measure benefits such as improved morale. Elements of workplace mental health programs may vary, but here are a few suggestions any employer can implement:
As an employer and a member of the community, your personal awareness and understanding of mental health issues make a difference. In addition, employees who disclose their mental health condition have a legal right to work accommodations. The Job Accommodation Network has a website with explanations and ideas for accommodations for a broad range of disabilities, including mental health conditions.
As an employee, you can ask your employer for EAP programs, or suggest that any of the above become a part of your standard workplace culture. You can make a difference, even if it's just in your own cubicle.