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Why Mental Health Should Be An Executive Priority

Update Date: May 05, 2019 10:39 PM EDT

Approximately one out of every five adults that you meet on any given day has suffered or is suffering from a mental illness, diagnosed or otherwise.

In fact, mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder and major depression, are the third most common reason why adolescents and adults aged 18-44 are hospitalized in the US each year.

According to a study published in 2018 by The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the United States saw a rise of depression diagnoses by roughly 33% between 2013 and 2016. The study, called Major Depression: The Impact On Overall Health, also discussed the different demographics that were most affected. And it's no surprise that a big percentage of those suffering from major depression belongs to those in the labor force.

Cultural norms and mental health

In America, we are often told to "suck it up and deal with it" when it comes to problems outside of work. If you wake up feeling down in the dumps or emotionally battered, it doesn't matter; you still have to dress up and pretend like everything's fine. Even if you're at the lowest of lows, you're still expected to show up to work with a pleasant smile on your face. Regardless of what you're feeling, you're still expected to prioritize work over anything else, since that's what 'adults' are supposed to do: they "suck it up and deal with it".

The culture here, as in most parts of the world, is to leave personal problems at home where they supposedly belong.

But in the case of mental illnesses, there remains a single, important question - one that employees and employers alike have been trying to solve for quite some time now. How do you 'leave' a problem behind if the problem lies in your brain?

The truth, which some are still finding hard to accept, is that mental illnesses can't just be left at home. A person suffering from severe anxiety struggles with work responsibilities in the same way that a person suffering from a severe migraine struggles, too.

Mental health and the economy

A Gallup poll from 2013 revealed that U.S. workers from all over the country who were suffering from depression missed more workdays in a single year compared to workers who were not suffering from depression. In total, these employees missed 68 million more workdays than their co-workers who weren't going through the same ordeal.

This is certainly a struggle, not just for the employees themselves, but also for their employers who have to deal with missed deadlines, impaired work performance, and the possibility of a work injury delaying outputs. Based on statistics, such mood disorders cost the global economy roughly $1 trillion each year due to lost productivity stemming from these disorders.

Not to mention, employees who are not mentally healthy also cost the company more in healthcare. On average, a person suffering from depression accrues roughly $14,967 in annual healthcare costs, almost three times higher than the average $5,929 for the rest of the population. They also visit the emergency room six times more than the overall population, on average, which contributes to the higher cost of healthcare.

If you're an employer and would like to improve the situation in your company, you can start by simply paying more attention. After all, if you can't even recognize the problem, you won't be able to solve it no matter how hard you try.

Recognizing problems in the workplace

The first thing you can do is to assess the working environment of your employees. Is it relaxed? Hostile? How are your employees treating each other? You have to learn how to recognize the signs of a toxic environment, as that could add burden to a person already struggling from a mental disorder. Toxic workplace environments could also further worsen developing mental disorders.

The second thing you can do is to be more hands-on in your approach to mitigating the problems that could contribute to mental illnesses. Even in the U.S., there's still negative stigma surrounding mental health disorders, so your employees may feel uncomfortable or ashamed to step forward. You can help ease employees into talking about the topic by giving out anonymous employee questionnaires meant to assess the overall mental health in the workplace.

And if you do find someone who is suffering from a mental disorder or is at risk of developing one, the next thing you can do is to immediately extend help to them. Of course, you can always make sure that employees have access to a mental health care provider whenever they need it.

Pushing for mental health awareness at work

The U.S. still has a lot to go in terms of mental health awareness and there's still plenty of room to improve. But while there is still negative stigma associated with the topic inside and outside the workplace, you, as an employer, can always do your part in reducing its damages. By fostering a holistically healthy working environment where employees are happy and free from both physical and mental disorders, you're also fostering a workplace that maintains an optimum level of productivity at all times, perfect for a job well-done.

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