How to Combat Mental Health Issues In the Workplace

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The prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace has been largely ignored for some time, but in recent years — especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic — awareness has increased dramatically.

Mental health at work is being studied far more intently than in the past, and the results are telling. A 2021 study by the Harvard Business Review found that across all organizational levels, 76 percent of employees reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition.

Mental health struggles at work are especially prevalent among Millennials and Gen Z. In the Harvard Business Review study, 81 percent of Gen Z and 68 percent of Millennials reported that they left a job because of mental health. Needless to say, the demand for business leaders to address mental health issues in the workplace is higher than ever. Here’s what you should know.

How mental health challenges can affect the workplace.

The prevalence of mental health challenges, particularly among younger generations, should be noteworthy to leaders. Left unchecked, issues such as depression and anxiety can have a direct impact on an individual’s work performance and engagement, as well as their quality of life.

Studies have found that workers with depression experience reduced cognitive performance 35 percent of the time. In 20 percent of cases, depression can also interfere with an individual’s ability to perform physical work. Absenteeism and an increased risk for substance use are also potential outcomes alongside lost productivity.

Depression can cause issues outside of work, as well. Studies have found that patients with depression have significantly higher healthcare costs than those without depression. Mental health challenges can disrupt a person’s family relationships and more — and unfortunately, the office can sometimes make these issues even worse.

Is your workplace contributing to someone’s mental health struggles?

Like it or not, the office can be a stressful place. Research has found that a toxic workplace that imposes unreasonable demands on team members and doesn’t reward them for their work can triple the risk for depression.

I gained additional insights on how the workplace can contribute to mental health struggles during a recent conversation with Sam Arsenault Wilson, co-founder of Confidant Health. Wilson has years of experience researching behavioral health and substance use disorders.

She explained that mental health challenges can make even a relatively “healthy” work environment feel impossible. Without meaningful mental health support, work-related stress can also be compounded.

An office doesn’t have to be overtly toxic for this to happen — simply not providing mental health resources can create a situation that puts an employee’s mental health at risk.

Creating a supportive work environment.

So how can work become a place that supports mental health, rather than worsens it? While you may not be able to remove all the stress from the nature of your work, this doesn’t mean that leaders are left without meaningful options.

Wilson noted that employers can confront mental health challenges by ensuring that meaningful resources are readily available to employees. This includes mental health self-assessment tools, free or subsidized behavior-change resources and ensuring that mental health and substance use care is covered at parity with physical healthcare in benefits packages.

Providing training to all employees — but particularly managers — to recognize the signs of depression in themselves and others can also help ensure that people get the help they need, when they need it. Regularly talking about mental health can erase some of the stigma that prevents people from getting needed care.

Finally, as hard as it may seem, leaders should evaluate their own work environment and make changes when needed. There should be no place for workplace politics or bullying. Evaluate whether certain employees are given unfair expectations or an excessive workload. Addressing these issues can prevent burnout and help your team maintain a good work-life balance.

Business leaders cannot afford to ignore mental health issues in the workplace. These challenges don’t just affect your bottom line — they affect the well-being of the people you are supposed to lead. By making mental health a priority, you can turn your organization into a true leader that provides the level of support your employees expect and deserve.