Workplace Mental Health: What Employers & Employees Can Do

Living with a mental illness means working with one, too. Although those struggling with their mental health can have great difficulty engaging in many aspects of life (including their careers), others are able to perform well at work despite how they’re feeling. Even so, mental illnesses such as depression cause productivity loss (employees with depression miss an estimated 6-25 days more per year than their coworkers), and The American Psychiatric Association estimates that depression costs up to $200 billion a year through workplaces absences and associated healthcare expenditures alongside diminished productivity.

What can employers do?

  • Learn the facts. Mental illness is unfortunately more commonplace than many employers may think, with an estimated 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiencing mental illness in a given year. This means that for a medium-sized business employing 1,000 people, 200 employees will be effected—don’t think that mental illness is something that happens to “other people.”
  • Recognize that mental health is just as important as physical health. Recent years have seen an increased focus on employee physical health, from free gym memberships to standing desks. The same incentives are being made for mental health at the most forward-thinking companies by offering meditation courses or checking in with employees and encouraging them to take time off when they feel they need it.
  • If possible, be flexible. Deadlines are deadlines, but consider offering periodic teleworking when it’s possible, or allowing working hours outside of the normal 8-5 as long as employees are able to maintain their standard of productivity.
  • Cultivate inclusiveness. Strive to create a work environment that values employees by recognizing individuals for their efforts, and working with them to achieve their career goals.

What can employees do?

  • If possible, be honest. Unfortunately, mental illness is still stigmatized and can be seen as a liability or weakness in business. If you feel that your employer is sympathetic and will not dismiss your concerns, consider letting them know that you’ve been struggling and telling them that you’d like to find ways to help better manage your workload.
  • Be proactive about seeking out help. Often, mental health is pushed to the backburner and doesn’t get addressed until someone is close to a breaking point. However, it’s important to be proactive about recognizing when you need help and getting it sooner rather than later and before it begins to further negatively impact you.
  • Cultivate positive habits. Even if your employer isn’t the type to understand or make accommodations for mental health, you can keep up with the habits that help manage your mental illness, on top of your existing treatment program. Do your best to maintain good sleep habits and strive to improve your diet and exercise. If you find that your workplace is exacerbating your mental illness despite your best efforts, you may consider looking for a new opportunity elsewhere.

Even for employees without mental illness, the current business environment trend of 24/7 availability and a lack of true downtime keeps workers from being able to feel rested and recharged, even on their days off. For others, relying on the gig economy to replace or supplement steady income creates financial insecurity that heightens stress levels and puts people at higher risk for developing conditions such as anxiety or depression. With the average person spending over 13 full years at work during their lifetimes, promoting mental wellness in the workplace is critical to improving overall mental health, whether at work or outside of it.