THE BLOG

How to Foster Good Mental Health in the Workplace

05/01/2015 02:17 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2016

The way employees think, feel, and behave can impact everything from productivity and communication to their ability to maintain safety. Promoting good mental health in the workplace could be one of the most important steps an employer could take to improve an organization.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can cost employers a lot of money. In fact, the Center for Prevention and Health Services estimates that mental illness and substance abuse issues cost employers between $79 and $105 billion annually in indirect costs. Absenteeism, decreased productivity, and increased healthcare expenses are just a few of the ways mental health problems cost employers money.

Of course, the reasons for promoting good mental health stem beyond a company's bottom dollar. Supporting employees in feeling their best also reduces suffering on an individual level and serves as a win-win situation for everyone. Despite the multitude of benefits of promoting good mental health, most workplaces do very little to prevent or address emotional problems.

Here are three ways employers can promote good mental health in the workplace:

1. Create a Healthy Environment

While biology is certainly a factor in the development of mental illness, the environment also plays a large role. It's important for employers to take a look at the lifestyle they're promoting among workers. Expecting employees to work 80 hours a week or insisting people respond to work-related email from home are just a few of the things that can interfere with an employee's ability to build a natural buffer against workplace stress.

Since most people spend approximately one-third of their time at work, it it's important to ensure the workplace is taking steps to promote good health. A few simple ways to foster a healthy environment include encouraging exercise, allowing for breaks where employees can socialize, and offering stress reduction workshops. Hiring a mental health professional to teach mindfulness or offering free access to a yoga class are just a few creative ways to bolster mental strength and develop resilience to mental health problems.

2. Help Workers Identify Mental Health Risks

Approximately one in four adults experience a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. Yet, many of them suffer in silence. Some people fail to recognize they're experiencing a mental health issue. Instead, they may associate their symptoms with aging or assume that their problems are just a normal part of stress. Helping employees recognize their risk factors and symptoms is one of the simplest yet most effective ways for employers to help.

There are several ways business leaders can allow employees to access confidential mental health screenings. One way is to invite a mental health professional from the community to come into the office to provide free screenings. Employees can be given questionnaires that ask about their habits and symptoms. If the screening reveals a high likelihood a mental health issue, they can be referred for a complete assessment.

There are also free online screening tools that employees can be encouraged to access. Screenings can be completed in complete privacy and employees can be given immediate feedback about their results, as well as information about community resources that can assess and treat mental health problems.

3. Assist Employees in Addressing Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues are very treatable, so it's essential that employees are supported in their attempts to seek help. Allowing an employee to attend weekly therapy appointments during business hours, for example, could prevent that employee from having to go out on disability due to serious depression. Creating policies that support emotional wellness and treatment can ensure that employees are able to perform at their best.

While most business leaders would never step over an employee suffering a heart attack, those same leaders often ignore employees who are clearly experiencing a mental health problem. Unfortunately, ignoring mental health issues only furthers the stigma. Educating managers on how to address employee mental health can ensure that employees feel safe to talk about their concerns and it will increase the likelihood that they'll access available resources.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, speaker, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.