Mental health is a serious problem. And based on recent studies, it’s an increasingly deadly concern in North America.
Mental Health America reports that 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have increased more than 30% since 1999. But despite these alarming numbers, mental health issues are often unseen and untreated. And unfortunately, mental health issues are not just something you can snap out of or overcome without help.
Safety professionals can support employees’ mental health by creating a workplace health and safety program that addresses both mental and physical health. The benefits of doing so can be huge, from eliminating stress and anxiety to increasing productivity and job satisfaction. Here are a few ways to establish a work environment that fosters good mental health.
Establish an atmosphere of trust
The vast majority of people will only disclose mental health concerns and seek help from people they trust. This means it’s essential for EHS managers to create a supportive atmosphere. An open-door policy that allows employees to approach management with any issues at any time, without fear of reprisal or criticism, is important to establish trust between management and employees.
Communicating the company’s stance on mental health through established policies or guidelines is also a good idea. Talking about mental health concerns openly will help remove the stigma and alert people to the seriousness of the issue.
When addressing mental health, it’s important to reassess any policies regarding workplace violence and harassment. Inclusion is important, and any signs of intimidation, bullying or harassment need to be addressed immediately. These policies are important to demonstrate support for employees.
Provide education and protection
Employees should be encouraged to participate in continuous learning opportunities, including ones that provide support or empathy for those who struggle with mental health issues. Reach employees by bringing in a guest speaker to discuss mental health to gain their interest. There’s nothing more powerful than someone recounting a real-life story—and they may be able to relate the speaker’s story to their own situation.
Safety professionals should also provide multiple resources to employees who want to learn more about mental health. Training on the policies and procedures surrounding these issues is also vital. To ensure sustainability, review the policies annually and update when necessary.
Another important part of an inclusive workplace when it comes to mental health is a return-to-work program similar to what is offered employees who suffer a physical ailment—when necessary, make accommodations to work and offer support when employees need to take a leave of absence due to mental health issues. And ensure that all employees know that they will be taken care of if they need to take time off to take care of their mental health.
Encourage employees to seek wellness for themselves
56% of Americans living with a mental illness do not receive treatment. When it comes to providing support for mental health, tap into the resources at your disposal—in particular, look into mental health coverage provided by your company’s insurance plan. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are a great resource to give employees access to the help they need. With most EAPs, workers can get immediate confidential access to trained counselors 24 hours a day via telephone or in person.
A corporate wellness program can promote overall health, including regular exercise, better-eating patterns and support to break bad habits. Exercise produces endorphins, which provide a natural feeling of happiness, increased energy and better sleep patterns. Researchers from Kings College in London reviewed over 49 studies to definitively determine what we’ve always known: exercise and physical activity can ward off or lessen the severity of depression.
Taking these proactive measures can impact the bottom line by increasing productivity and reducing illness and absenteeism. It can also provide essential support for a vulnerable segment of the workforce. So the next time you review your health and safety program, make sure that it takes adequate steps to deal with both physical and mental issues.