How Your EAP can Improve Mental Health in the Workplace

Dawn Motovidlak By Dawn Motovidlak

This is a series of features on our blog that puts a focus on Mental Health in the workplace and provides resources for leaders in your company. Mental health is a critically important part of your employees’ lives at home and their lives at work. BHS is making great strides in providing support for individuals experiencing mental health issues in the workplace through EAPs and Wellness Programs.

For generations, individuals suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders have resisted seeking treatment or were even unaware that effective treatments are readily available. While psychological care has advanced, the stigma of needing that care has continued to plague millions. Add in the concern employees have about their reputation in the workplace, and even those with free services available, such as an Employee Assistance Program, have suffered in silence in the past.

Fortunately, the worldwide recognition of the scope and impact of mental health issues is on the rise. Social norms are changing, moving conversations about emotional well-being out of the shadows and to the forefront. Project Semicolon, a worldwide campaign designed to help reduce incidents of suicide through community information and resources, is a perfect example of this trend. In the past, suicide was never openly discussed. Now, the semicolon tattoo is trending as a way to show support for this important cause. This newfound willingness to acknowledge and address mental health concerns has the potential to change workplace dynamics forever.

Adopting Well-Being Practices

Organizations are becoming more aware of mental health in the workplace. Why? Because of the rise of well-being programs that focus on overall health and well-being, not simply improving specific numbers or addressing specific behaviors.

It’s important to remember that mental health does not equal psychosis. Mental health is also about work/life balance, resiliencies, and emotional well-being. Through our work with thousands of clients in a wide range of industries, we know that mental health issues are often present but not acknowledged. And, these issues can be barriers to physical health if left unaddressed.

The impact of this issue extends from home to work.

Experts are also confirming the link between mental health issues and disability. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), five of the ten leading causes of disability worldwide are mental problems — major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, alcohol use and obsessive-compulsive disorders. The WHO’s Mental Health and Work: Impact, Issues and Good Practices report concludes, “These disorders – together with anxiety, depression and stress –have a definitive impact on any working population and should be addressed within that context.”

More than 40 million people in the U.S. have some type of mental health disorder, with, 4-5 million adults considered seriously mentally ill. The impact on the workplace is staggering.

For example, national spending for depression alone in the U.S. is between $30-40 billion, with an estimated 200 million lost workdays annually. Many of those with less serious mental health issues (the remaining 35 million Americans) may need help to bring their best selves to work each day, as mental health status can clearly impact an employee’s daily performance, rates of illness, accidents and turnover.

Who is At Risk? Everyone.

It’s no surprise that first responders like firefighters and police officers have stress-filled jobs that can create mental health issues. They’re dealing with life and death situations every day, so it’s easy to see the possibility for anxiety, workplace tension and even depression. But what about an attorney, a CPA, or a baggage handler at the airport? While these three jobs may have less critical responsibilities, there are some common traits that can lead to mental health issues. No matter the job description, everyone faces some sort of pressure to meet deadlines and meet management expectations. Of course, the need to provide an income and benefits to support yourself and your family can also create stress.

And, no, the answer is not to stop working altogether. While working can create stress, being employed can also help to provide many of the experiences that promote mental well-being, including: time structure, social contact, collective effort and purpose, social identity and regular activity. So, keeping employees engaged and active in the workplace benefits the individual as well as the organization.

Your EAP is designed for this.

Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can be your not-so-secret weapon to addressing many burgeoning mental health issues before they develop further.

Completing a thorough intake questionnaire is a key first step. Perhaps an employee calls your EAP because they want to lose weight. A well-trained care coordinator may find during the initial call that this employee is also dealing with the loss of a parent, or the impending graduation of their youngest child. These significant life events can create a ripple effect of mental and physical health issues. In many cases, addressing the mental health issues first will result in a better long term outcome.

Many staffers may be unaware of the wide range of services that can help them handle common stressors that can spiral out of control if left unaddressed. In fact, your EAP should have a variety of experts who can offer financial and legal assistance, retirement planning, diet and exercise programs and even simple techniques for creating a better work/life balance.

Of course, a strong EAP can also be a referral resource to help tackle “big” problems like alcohol and drug dependency, but it can also help the family or household members who are also dealing with the fallout of these conditions. Check out this earlier blog post on how your EAP can help deal with the ongoing Opioid Epidemic.

Finally, while leadership may be responsible for implementing wellness programs, research and practical experience show that in order for workplace wellness to be effective, leaders must be engaged and involved. For example, in a the American Psychological Association’s 2016 Work and Well-Being Survey, almost three-fourths (73%) of employees with senior managers who show support through involvement and commitment to well-being initiatives said their organization helps employees develop a healthy lifestyle, compared with just 11% who work in an organization without that leadership support.

Breaking the Silence

Despite progress, the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues still exists and can be difficult to overcome. Treatment for mental health issues is generally highly effective; however, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 33% of those in need will seek help.

Your EAP has the power to deliver the help your employees need and reduce the need for more intensive treatment later. HR managers can play a crucial role in opening up productive discussions about mental health needs and presenting information that can literally save a life.

Want to learn more? Get in touch.

Dawn Motovidlak

By Dawn Motovidlak, President and CEO

Dawn's passion for bettering lives has been a driving force behind her leadership in moving other organizations to rethink employee assistance and wellness and the long-term gains a higher level of employee well-being can bring. Her commitment to bettering lives continues after hours, as she serves on the boards of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Big Brothers Big Sisters and MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. She chases work-life balance in her own life by attending concerts and escaping to the beach with her family.