Dori Meinert, a senior writer for HR Magazine, published an article on the SHRM website titled, “Accommodating Mental Illness.” The article outlines fighting stigma against mental health issues, creating awareness in the workplace of these occurances, continuing education about mental health, expert advice, easing an employee’s return to work after a leave, making reasonable accommodations, and showing respect for all workers. Meinert has researched this topic thoroughly to offer insightful advice for employers and HR professionals. She writes, “Each year, more than 41 million Americans—18 percent of the U.S. population—experience some type of mental illness, according to data released by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in December 2013.” This whopping demographic has direct business implications: “More days of work have been lost or disrupted by mental illness than by many chronic conditions, including arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.“ If mental health complications are so prevalent, why don’t HR professionals discuss it more? There is stigma attached to mental health that is dissimilar from other health complications. To further this point, Meinert reports, “Popular movies and news coverage of violence committed by people with mental illness help perpetuate negative stereotypes. In reality, less than 5 percent of violent crimes are committed by people who have a mental disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association.” However, the conversation on mental health is changing slowly but surely: “And the recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams helped remind people that mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of their age, wealth, status or apparent disposition.” So what can you do when you’re faced with an employee who is inflicted by mental health disease? Meinert explains that, “DuPont has developed an educational program to encourage employees to reach out to co-workers who appear to be in emotional distress.” Continuing education is something that HR professionals are experts at doing. Developing a training and education module for employees may greatly increase the acceptance and available resources for employees. There are actions that employers can take to decrease the amount of time and money mental health can end up causing. “In a 2004 study, employees who received high-quality depression care management over two years realized a 28 percent improvement in absenteeism and a 91 percent improvement in presenteeism (when employees are present at work but not productive). That translates to an annual savings of $3,476 per employee (in 2013 dollars), according to Kathryn Rost, a research professor at the University of South Florida.” Providing up front assistance can mean savings in the long term. There’s a cross functional need to respect all employees and offer reasonable accommodations. It is less about being a social worker for your employee, but more about providing the proper resources to help them be productive. Meinert illustrates the following three tables in her article that highlight the main points of her information.
Finding the Right Words
What Not to say: Try Instead:
“How’s your health?” “How can we help you do your job?”
“You seem depressed.” “You’re not your usual self.”
“Snap out of it.” ”Do you want to talk about it?”
“Think positive.” “It’s always OK to ask for help.”
Create a Stigma-Free Workplace
To support employees with mental illnesses, the National Mental Health Association and the National Council for Behavioral Health recommend the following actions:
- Educate employees about the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders.
- Encourage employees to talk about stress, workload, family commitment and other issues.
- Communicate that mental illnesses are real, common and treatable.
- Discourage stigmatizing language, including hurtful labels such as “crazy,” “loony” or “nuts.”
- Invest in mental health benefits.
- Help employees transition back to work after they take leave.
- Consult with your employee assistance program.
The Business Impact
Mental illness causes more lost workdays and impairment than each of the following:
- Back pain.
- Heart disease.
Author: Dana Millio