By Kyle Wade, VP of HR Services, Payroll Network

Mental health was a keynote topic covered at two recent HR industry events I’ve attended. I was intrigued that mental health was a trending topic at both events and it forced me to take a step back and look at things from a new vantage point. A theme for both sessions on wellness and mental health was that social stigma is a big reason why employees don’t seek assistance when they are encountering mental health concerns. They don’t want to be labeled as crazy or weird and, in many cases, may not know what treatment options even exist. Having a healthy, engaged employee population is, obviously, critical. I’d like to share some insights on how to help your employees get mental health assistance. One of the most important steps you can take is to reduce the stigma by talking about it.

A quick google search can uncover a variety of definitions for stigma. One that stood out to me was that social stigma is the extreme disapproval of a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of society. Why is this relevant in the world of Human Resources? Sadly, mental health is frequently associated with a negative stigma. If we’re interested in making sure our workforce is happy, healthy, and engaged, then mental health is something we must take more seriously.

I was surprised by the data on how many adults in America are impacted: one in five adults (20 percent¹) are impacted and 2/3 of employees try to hide their mental condition from co-workers. Another challenge is that many mental health professionals arent willing to accept insurance, which makes it difficult for employees to find assistance. It seems like a broken cycle where you have employees that are hesitant to seek out assistance and, in the rare cases that someone does look for help, they have a challenge finding an affordable provider to help them, so they stop looking. Hopefully, the overall system improves soon, and the stigma decreases in our society.

In the interimthere are a couple of things you can do:

  • Reduce the stigma about mental health by openly discussing it with your employees during new hire onboarding and open enrollment  
  • Check with your existing benefits vendors to see what resources and education is available for your employees  
  • Consider bringing in a speaker for a Lunch and Learn on available resources 
  • Explore the fine print of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Many of these programs offer confidential support for employees and can help them locate providers. Regularly share this benefit to raise awareness about resources to help. 
  • Confirm what coverage is available with your medical insurance providers for mental health and consider alternative providers with better plans or coverage 
  • Consider participating in World Mental Health Day on October 10th each year in some small way to bolster awareness 
  • Find out if your community offers mental health resources and can help raise awareness. 
  • Look for signs within your workforce and make yourself available to support your employees in case they are looking for help 

One study estimates that mental illness costs America up to $193.2 billion in lost revenue per year (namisf.org). Workplace implications include:

  • Absenteeism
  • Decreased productivity 
  • Disability claims 
  • Injuries/illnesses 
  • Turnover 

Having a healthy, engaged employee population is criticalAs an HR leadermake it a priority to help your employees get mental health assistanceReduce the stigma btalking about it. Highlight EAP mental health benefits. Create a culture of awareness and supportYour employees will pay you back with increased productivity and loyalty.

¹ World Health Organization- https://www.who.int/ 
https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml 
https://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=4811436&page=1