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Mental health at work: Study offers three tools to address challenges



Mental health has been a particularly salient topic in recent years – approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. Since 1949, May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness month in the United States.

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine last year discussed recommendations for psychological wellness in the workplace. The study convened a meeting, Mental Health in the Workplace: A Public Health Summit, and gathered experts in fields spanning medicine, human resources, academia, clinical practice, insurance and policy making. The purpose of the summit was to illuminate unresolved issues and brainstorm actionable steps to improve mental health in business.

The study ultimately proposed development of three tools to address mental health in the workplace: a “how to” guide, a scorecard and a recognition program. The “how to” guide would provide employers with advice, progressive program designs and a standard set of metrics to evaluate mental health in the office. The scorecard would help companies assess the efficacy of their workplace programs, and the recognition program would applaud offices doing exemplary work in the area. The summit also recommended companies partner with a business school to establish an executive training program focused on mental health in the workplace.

The study outlined the cost of mental illness to employers – currently within the U.S., mental illness is more expensive than heart disease, cancer and strokes. The “price” of mental illness extends beyond treatment; it also leads to productivity losses that cost the company time and money. Mental illness inhibits employees from performing to their best ability and can lead to physical, emotional or social impairments. This toll is especially pertinent for workers whose daily job performance relies on mental acuity and creativity.

Prior to the summit, two case studies were done to identify best practices for healthy workplace cultures. Prudential and USAA have both been leaders in promoting emotional health and pioneering programs that monitor and address employees’ overall well-being. The study used Prudential and USAA as leading examples for how other employers can improve their efforts.

Key takeaways:
  • A significant portion of Americans’ lives are spent within the workplace, so addressing prevalent issues such as mental illness in that environment can have a substantial impact
  • Improvement of employee mental health can save companies ample resources
  • Integrated policy approaches are vital to the progress of mental health in the workplace

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