About 1 in 5 adults will experience a diagnosable mental health issue in any given year, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), but more than half of those affected will go untreated.
That gap in seeking help carries a heavy cost on the job: workplace mental health issues fuel up to $500 billion a year in lost productivity, according to Mental Health America.
Encouraging workers to talk about and seek treatment for mental health issues is not just good for them as individuals, it’s also beneficial for your business. The APA says more than 80 percent of employees who are treated for mental health issues report improved effectiveness at work and increased job satisfaction.
Dr. Philip Muskin, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center, says untreated mental health issues often have two costly manifestations in the workplace: absenteeism and presenteeism.
- Absenteeism is the more obvious of the two. Workers just don’t show up, calling in sick or using personal time to conceal their struggles.
- Presenteeism takes a quieter toll, according to Dr. Muskin.
“When people who are depressed describe their functioning in surveys, they estimate that they are about 40 percent present, meaning they’re really not working,” he explained. “They’re unable to pay attention, their frustration tolerance may be very low, so they’re not really getting their job done. And they may interact with others in a different way.”
Whether mental health issues lead to missed workdays or lost on-the-job productivity, employers can help by simply encouraging dialogue and helping to break down stigma.
“Unfortunately, there’s still a measure of reluctance to have candid discussions around common issues like depression, anxiety, or stress,” said Karie Batzler, director of behavioral health at Capital BlueCross. “The good news is we’re seeing that tide turn and employers can play an important role in encouraging those long overdue conversations about mental wellness.”
Capital BlueCross has taken steps to spur those conversations in the business community. Earlier this year, the insurer released a free mental wellness toolkit to help employers address mental wellness issues in the workplace.
The toolkit – portions of which are available to employers regardless of whether they have Capital BlueCross coverage – offers resources to spur conversations about mental wellness issues and help drive greater awareness of behavioral health resources.
Batzler said the timing for such conversations is ideal, given some employees are heading back to the workplace amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, and many of those employees likely struggled with symptoms of depression and/or anxiety since the pandemic began.
“There’s no bad time to discuss mental wellness in the workplace, but the events of the past year can be a solid conversation starter for employers and employees alike,” Batzler said.