May Is Mental Health Awareness Month -- Here's Why Companies Should Care

05/26/2015 09:11 am ET | Updated May 26, 2016

Most people spend the majority of their waking hours working. During those long hours, the office setting either promotes good mental health or contributes to poor emotional well-being. Despite the large role that office culture plays in employee well-being, most companies rarely -- if ever -- mention the subject of mental health.

Employers certainly can't prevent all mental health problems. Genetics and past traumatic experiences are just a couple of the factors that can influence a person's mental health. But there are steps employers can take to reduce stress and promote resilience.


The Cost of Mental Health Problems to Employers

Nearly 1 in 5 people experienced a diagnosable mental health problem in the last year, and many other people are at risk, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The vast majority of people struggling with issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses suffer in silence.

Employees with untreated mental illness cost employers billions of dollars each year. An estimated 217 million days of work are lost annually due to productivity decline related to mental illness and substance, according to the Center for Prevention and Health Services. Additionally, mental illness and substance use disorders are the fifth leading cause of short-term disability and the third leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

Employees are Stressed Out

A 2014 survey by Buck Consultants at Xerox found that 84 percent of employers report believing they have a high responsibility to provide a working environment that promotes mental well-being. The survey found that employee performance is the most important reason organizations want to address work-related stress and poor mental well-being.

Despite employers' good intentions to promote mental well-being, the survey found that that 53 percent of U.S. respondents rate their stress levels as above average, with 33 percent saying that stress has increased in their organizations over the last five years. Stress is a major factor that can influence a person's mental health and can contribute to problems such as depression and anxiety.

Treatment for Mental Health Problems

When people are diagnosed with physical health problems -- like diabetes or heart disease -- they don't wait to seek in treatment in hopes their illness will disappear on its own. Yet, most mental health problems go untreated for years. Unfortunately, without treatment mental health problems may get worse, making them more difficult to treat.

The good news is, most mental health problems are very treatable. The bad news is, there are several barriers that prevent people from getting treatment. Many people fail to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of a mental health problem. There's also still a stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental health problems. And for many people, treatment simply isn't affordable.

Mental Health Awareness Month is an Opportunity

People aren't either mentally healthy or mentally ill. Mental health is a continuum. An organization's culture and policies can greatly influence where employees fall on the continuum. Providing a healthy work environment assists people in being at their best.

Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportune time for employers to consider what steps they want to take to promote mental well-being in the workplace. Implementing resilience-building and stress awareness programs are just a few of the ways companies can foster good mental health in the workplace.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.


Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, keynote 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.