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Employee Wellbeing

The Evolution of Mental Health in the Workplace

Many employers are now looking at wellness more holistically, and paying attention to their employees’ total well-being. They’re addressing behavioral issues like depression, drug addiction and anxiety as part of their wellness programs, and are stepping in with support, according to the report Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits: 2016 survey results.

Communicating support

Ninety-three percent of workplaces offer some sort of mental health or substance abuse benefits in response to an increasingly apparent need. Nine in 10 companies report their workforce is stressed, and 61 percent say depression is prevalent within their company. Whether it’s your employee or someone close to them being impacted, it’s important employees are aware of the most commonly offered mental health or substance abuse coverage and treatment options provided by their employer.

Employers can better understand the mental health issues existing in their workplace by analyzing health, disability, prescription drug and workers’ compensation claims data. By identifying these specific issues, employers can create more-targeted solutions.

Pressure points

Here’s what employers are seeing: In addition to the 61 percent of survey respondents that report depression as prevalent, respondents’ other top concerns are alcohol addiction (49 percent), anxiety disorders (49 percent), sleep deprivation (36 percent), prescription drug addiction (33 percent) and nonprescription drug addiction (27 percent).

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, so it’s critical for employers to recognize the extent of its presence in the workplace. Behavioral health issues impact costs, productivity, physical health and employee safety. Survey respondents attribute 12 percent of their disability claims and 7 percent of their workers’ compensation claims to mental health or substance abuse issues. These issues are responsible, on average, for 14 percent of respondents’ health care costs. Looking at work performance, employers report a negative impact on productivity (62 percent), morale (58 percent) and safety (48 percent). Two-thirds report these issues contribute to absenteeism.

Where benefits can help

How are employers helping their employees? A common workplace benefit is an employee assistance program (EAP) which provides access to services and resources aimed at preventing or resolving personal challenges. Among treatment options, the most commonly provided include: ​​ outpatient in-person treatment sessions with a medical professional or therapist (90 percent); inpatient hospital or clinic treatment (84 percent); prescription drug therapies for mental health issues (80 percent); prescription drug therapies for substance abuse issues (67 percent); and inpatient residential treatment centers (66 percent).

To ease the transition back into work duties, employers offer a variety of return-to-work programs. These most commonly include off- and on-site case management programs and flexible return to work, including shortened schedules, flexible start and stop times and preparatory conversations with the returning worker pre-return.

The final barrier

Recognition of the importance of providing mental health and substance abuse benefits is growing among employers. Despite progress, there is still misunderstanding and stigma attached to mental illness.

Two in 5 employers (43 percent) say their employees fear that admitting a problem may negatively impact their job security. Similarly, 38 percent report employee fear about confidentiality and 36 percent say employees do not acknowledge or are not ready to address their problems. As more employers see behavioral health as a critical component of employee well-being, mental health and substance abuse issues will emerge from workplace shadows.

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