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Support for Mental Health in the Workplace: Employee Perspective

  • January 28, 2019
  • Anxiety, Depression, Patients and Families

An estimated one in five working age adults lives with a mental health condition, yet more than 60 percent do not receive treatment. The American Psychiatric Association’s Center for Workplace Mental Health makes the case for employers to take action, noting that the costs associated with untreated mental illness in the workplace far outweigh the costs of providing treatment. When employees do receive effective treatment for mental illnesses, it also leads to increased productivity, lower absenteeism, and decreased disability costs.

Many companies are increasingly providing resources and programs to support employee mental health and well-being. So how do employees think their employers are doing with these efforts? That is the question addressed in a recent national survey of employees conducted by the Harris Poll for the American Heart Association.*

office unsplash.jpgThe survey was intended to gain insight into employees’ attitudes toward and experiences with, employers mental health offerings in the workplace. The survey found that employees recognize the importance of mental health to overall well-being. More than four in five said unaddressed mental health issues can lead to chronic physical health issues like diabetes and heart disease.

The vast majority of respondents, 88 percent, felt it is the employers’ responsibility to support employee mental health. However, 68 percent said their employer is committed to employee mental health. Commitment to employee physical health was viewed as slightly higher (75 percent) and perceived commitment to reducing employee stress was viewed as slightly less (64 percent).

While most employees reported good overall physical and mental health, most also reported some mental health concerns. More than three in four reported struggling with issues that affect their mental health. Among the issues mentioned most frequently were emotional issues, financial difficulties, interpersonal relationship issues, bullying and harassment, substance misuse and issues related to caregiving.

Center for Workplace Mental Health

Learn more about what employers are doing to support employee mental health and well-being and find employer resources at APA’s Center for Workplace Mental Health, including Recommendations for Improving Access to Mental Health and Substance Use Care

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Despite broad efforts to reduce stigma and more open discussion of mental illness by celebrities and in the media, most people are still not comfortable talking with their employer about their mental health. About 40 percent of employees in the survey reported having been diagnosed with a mental disorder (most commonly depression or anxiety) and most (62 percent) had not talked with their employer about the diagnosis.

Among the mental health resources and supports offered by employers that employees find most useful are flexible work schedules, onsite mental health support staff, mental health treatment/counseling, fitness options, and health promotion and prevention programs. The survey also asked employees what actions they would like to see employers take to support mental health. The top suggestions included

  • Provide more information about mental health benefits, accommodations and resources available to employees
  • Train managers and supervisors to identify emotional distress among employees
  • Offer health promotion and prevention programs
  • Offer mental health treatment rehabilitation and counseling programs
  • Require that vacation time be taken
  • Have leaders model work-life balance
  • Provide better quality outpatient and inpatient insurance coverage for mental health treatment

One interesting finding from the survey is that while some of the actions sought by employees would require new or expanded programs or services, the one thing employees most frequently mentioned wanting from employers is simply better communication about the resources and benefits that are currently available to them.


*The survey results were presented in a report released by the American Heart Association in December 2018: Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis.

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