How CEOs Are Making Mental Health a Less Taboo Topic at Work

Not long ago, it would have been considered a terrible move for anyone on the business fast track to talk openly about their struggles with mental health. Now CEOs are urging employees to do it. After Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins sent a companywide email with the subject “Making Mental Health a Priority,” encouraging employees to “talk openly and extend compassion,” his inbox was flooded with responses from over 100 employees, many of whom shared deeply personal experiences with mental health.

One in five Americans suffers from some sort of mental health condition, and 56% of them receive no treatment. The ripple effects in the workplace are significant: According to a 2015 study, depression alone costs the U.S. economy an estimated $210 billion a year through work absenteeism, low productivity, and concurrent conditions that often accompany poor mental health. That means that legitimizing and prioritizing emotional health in the workplace is financially prudent as well as humane.

Corporate America is catching on. In March, more than 40 top executives, including Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky and Bank of America chief Brian Moynihan, attended the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable to discuss an action plan designed to help build a mental health–friendly workplace. The strategies they discussed included reducing stigma around mental health issues through open discussion and employee feedback; offering digital behavioral technology (for example, apps that can connect employees to counselors) as a part of insurance plans; and integrating evidence-based mental health policies in existing practices.

The upshot of this activity: People who once remained tight-lipped to avoid being shunned or even fired over mental health issues are beginning to feel they can turn to their employers for support. An equally important message, for anyone struggling: We aren’t as alone as we once thought.

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A version of this article appears in the May 2019 issue of Fortune.

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Alex Gorsky
Brian Moynihan

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