Mental Health In the Workplace


I recently learned the disturbing news that a friend’s teenager had died by suicide.

Because this blog focuses on business law issues, I am turning my grief into providing information about mental health in the workplace.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 250 million people globally in the workforce suffer from depression. Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, poor mental health and stress can negatively affect employees’:

  • Job performance and productivity;

  • Engagement with one’s work;

  • Communication with coworkers;

  • Physical capability and daily functioning.

Additionally, mental illnesses, such as depression, are associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment.

Larger employers have more resources to handle all health issues for their employees, including insurance coverage and employee assistance programs (EAP). A start-up or small business can also take steps to support workers with stress and mental health issues:

Meaningful work: Employees want to feel valued and to perform meaningful work. Show you trust them by giving employees autonomy and resources. Be available for guidance and feedback.

Work-Life Balance. Workers will take their cues from the boss. We all need time off work to be our most efficient and productive, and to have time to reset. If the boss works 14-hour days, eats at her desk and checks emails into the wee hours, so will the workers. This is not healthy for anyone.

Organizational culture: What is your management style? Is it heavy on performance metrics and light on personal interaction? How are employees evaluated? Do they feel comfortable and supported sharing their struggles? Do you have flex time or offer paid gym memberships?

Resources: If you suspect an employee is having an issue, look into available community resources, family/social support organizations, as well as any medical and disability benefits that might be available. You should have local mental health emergency services readily available.

The American Psychiatric Association has more employer resources here.

If you need help supporting a colleague showing signs of mental distress, click here.

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