Every year, about 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences a mental illness and 1 in 25 lives with a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits at least one major life activity. Mental illness is a top cause of worker disability in the U.S. and 62 percent of missed work days can be attributed to mental health conditions.
A leader in employee benefits, Unum recently published the report, “Strong Minds at Work,” on the prevalence of mental health issues in today’s workplaces. The research revealed just 25 percent of managers in the U.S. have received training on how to refer employees to mental health resources and more than half of people are unsure how to help a colleague with a mental health issue.
“The development, implementation and promotion of mental health strategies has become a top priority for many of today’s employers,” said Michelle Jackson, assistant vice president of market development at Unum. “Creating a workplace culture that promotes mental health resources and encourages employees to take advantage of them helps to destigmatize mental health issues and can lead to a happier, more productive workforce.”
Some of the report’s findings include:
• Fifty-five percent of employees said their employer did not have, or they were unsure if their employer had, a specific program, initiative or policy in place to address mental health.
• Sixty-one percent of employees felt there’s a social stigma in the workplace toward colleagues with mental health issues; half of them felt the stigma has stayed the same or worsened in the past five years.
• Among employees with a mental health issue, 42 percent went to work with suicidal feelings.
“The fact that such a high percentage of employees have come to work feeling suicidal is troubling,” Jackson said. “While this is certainly a worst-case scenario and employers would hope issues would not progress to this level, it also emphasizes the need to ensure support and resources are understood and readily available in the workplace.”
The bulk of mental health resources are usually offered via an employer’s health care provider and can include medical care, an employee assistance program (EAP), counseling referrals and financial and legal counseling. However, employees often don’t fully understand the resources available to them.
According to the Unum study, HR professionals said 93 percent of their employers offer an EAP, yet only 38 percent of employees were aware of this resource. More than half of HR professionals said they offer financial counseling, legal services and telemedicine services, but a fraction of employees said they were aware these services exist.
“Employees should ask their HR department what mental health resources are available and be supportive of colleagues who may be struggling,” Jackson said. “Offering support to others and knowing where to direct them can not only save lives but also help create a more inclusive workplace environment.”