Mental health and the workplace: What employers must realize

In the United States, 44 million adults – about one in five – have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. This is a rising health challenge that does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, education or career. Those living with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders often experience strained relationships at home and at work.

According to a new survey by Harris Insights and Analytics for the American Heart Association, there’s much work to be done to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. The survey revealed that 63 percent of employees who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder say they have not told their employer about their diagnosis.

The same survey showed an overwhelming majority of employees see mental health as a clear priority in the workplace, with nearly 88 percent of respondents stating that employers have a responsibility to support their employees’ overall mental health.

With more than 157 million adults in the American workforce – the vast majority of whom receive health care through their employer – private sector employers are playing a critical role in ensuring that employees with mental health challenges get the support they need.

Mental and physical health are connected. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the estimated annual cost of depression in the United States is $210 billion. Roughly 40 percent of that cost is spent treating the illness, and 60 percent is spent treating conditions that occur simultaneously such as diabetes and heart disease.

A new report commissioned by the American Heart Association CEO Roundtable, “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis” offers actionable strategies employers can implement and showcases mental health programs and services among CEO Roundtable member organizations that are making this a priority for their workforces.

Business leaders can encourage employees to have open conversations about mental health issues and foster environments that support treatment when needed. The first step is for employers to recognize and acknowledge mental health disorders are far more common than people think. When managers are trained to recognize when people need support, they are better equipped to refer their employees to resources and programs that can help.

Once the stigma is removed, companies can build supportive cultures that make it acceptable to talk about mental health. Progress will be made when mental health care becomes as routine as physical care.

Nancy Brown is CEO of the American Heart Association. Alex Gorsky is chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson. Brian Moynihan is CEO of Bank of America.

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