It is the biggest economic burden of any health issue in the world and is projected to cost $6 trillion by 2030. Two-thirds of these costs are attributed to disability and loss of work. And yet shockingly, of the 450 million people worldwide who suffer from mental health conditions 60% do not receive any form of care. “Jobs” is the key word in American politics these days. How to get them back from other countries is important, of course, but what about helping companies retain the employees they have by successfully promoting mental wellness in the workplace?

Employers need to use an informed approach to help boost employee satisfaction, retention and productivity while protecting the company’s legal and financial interests. How? Here are four ways:

* Prevention: Promote mental health as part of an overall corporate wellness campaign. For example, bring in professionals who specialize in mental health and substance abuse issues to present mandatory, yet interesting educational seminars. That will help reduce the stigma attached to mental and substance abuse disorders. Businesses who have done this reported reduction in health expenses and other financial gains for their organizations.

* Awareness: Changes in sleep, mood, appetite, weight, behavior, and personality are caused by many drug addictions and mental health disorders. Other telling symptoms include tardiness, missed deadlines and unexplained or unauthorized absences from work to counter these problems, it is critical that management and HR be given sensitivity training and that professional information and referral resources are readily available. Taking these steps can help employers manage situations before they get out of control.

* Work-Life Balance and Accommodations: The Family Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and professionally diagnosed medical reasons, including mental illness or alcohol/substance use disorders. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to assist people with disabilities, including mental health impairments, perform job duties. Employers can help employees with mental health issues by encouraging the use of written checklists, instructions and offering more training time. Sometimes providing a mentor for daily guidance and meeting regularly to discuss progress.

* Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs designed to address substance abuse and addictions, as well as personal and family problems, mental health or emotional issues, marital or parenting problems, and financial or legal concerns. EAPs have evolved and grown in popularity during the last 25 years. The number of organizations with an EAP increased from 31% in 1985 to 75% in 2009. Providing a variety of treatment options for an employee will not only help reduce their suffering - it will curtail the incidence of impaired functioning at work.

 More jobs in America? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some 60% to 80% of people with mental illness are unemployed. In part, this is the crippling nature of the disease. But a large part of the problem that we have in hiring people who have some mental disorder is that we lack the sophisticated vocabulary to talk and act regarding these illnesses.

Managing mental health should hold no fear for managers – whether they realize it or not, they already have many of the skills needed to look after their employees’ wellbeing. Sometimes all it takes is an open mind. Mental health is the mental and emotional state in which we feel able to cope with the normal stresses of everyday life. If we are feeling good about ourselves we often work productively, interact well with colleagues and make a valuable contribution to our team or workplace. The good news is that line managers already have many of the skills needed to promote positive mental health at work. They are usually well-versed in the importance of effective communication and consultation, and the need to draw up practical workplace policies and procedures. Add to these skills an open mind and a willingness to try and understanding mental health problems, and organizations can make real progress in tackling the stigma often associated with mental health.

“The problem with the stigma around mental health is really about the stories that we tell ourselves as a society. What is normal? That’s just a story that we tell ourselves.” -- Matthew Quick (Author of The Silver Linings Playbook)


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