Employee mental health: How to manage this silent exposure

By Higginbotham on December 07 , 2016

Employee mental health risk

As an employer, how do you know if one of your workers is suffering from a mental health issue? And if you’re aware of an issue, how do you help without creating an uncomfortable situation or violating privacy laws?

Employers have been grappling with these questions for years. The fact is, how to cope with mental health issues among your employees can be one of the most difficult challenges you face. And it’s a growing issue. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 44 million adults in the U.S. experience some type of mental illness such as depression or anxiety disorders each year. That’s one in every five adults.

What’s the cost?

Mental health disorders cost companies both directly and indirectly. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), U.S. businesses suffer about $190 billion in lost earnings every year due to mental illnesses. And that number doesn’t account for the reduced productivity resulting from presenteeism – when an employee is physically present but still struggling with a physical or emotional issue. Statistics show that presenteeism can be an even bigger drain on a company’s resources than lost productivity from absenteeism. And keep in mind, being unaware of an issue doesn’t mean you’ll be off the hook legally in the event of an incident of negligence, violence or worse by an employee suffering from a mental health issue, so that’s another potentially costly landmine.

The silent tsunami of the workplace

These mental health issues have been called the “silent tsunami” of the workplace. The symptoms are often hidden, but the impact is not, and they can become a wave of productivity, profitability and legal problems if not handled correctly. They can impact health insurance costs, workers’ compensation insurance costs and even result in employment practice liability claims. In the worst-case scenario, workplace violence can result.

One problem is that the symptoms of many of the most common mental health issues tend to manifest themselves differently on the job than they do at home or in other settings. That makes it even tougher for employers to detect problems. But there’s also still a great deal of stigma attached to mental health issues, and it impacts everyone involved:

  • Employees struggling with these issues are often reluctant to seek treatment and may even take measures to hide their condition.
  • Employers are often unsure of how to detect mental health issues or how to help, and the problem is only frustrated by privacy and human rights laws that force them to tread lightly.

In short, mental health disorders all too often go unrecognized and/or untreated. That can increase safety risks and healthcare costs, and take a toll on productivity, company morale, and your bottom line.

Experts seem to agree that changing cultural attitudes is still the biggest hurdle to eliminating this silent tsunami, and outcomes could be greatly improved for both employees suffering from mental health issues and their employers if more of those employees could get treatment. For example, only about half of Americans diagnosed with major depression get treatment according to a study by NIMH.

Investing in employee mental health

Beyond merely following the law and providing reasonable accommodations, you’re in a unique position to help change the cultural mindset about mental health issues. Support mental well-being education, seek out resources for guidance and provide your employees with resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). If you have at-risk employees, you might consider a mental health consultant that can help ensure that employees are connected with the resources they need.

Investing in your employees’ mental health is a positive first step toward making a better life for those who may be suffering in silence in your workplace – and it’s one investment that will always provide a positive return.

For more on handling this silent exposure, call Higginbotham Insurance today. Our wellness programs, benefit services and risk management strategies can help you address mental health at your organization.


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Tags: Corporate Wellness


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