Why You Should Include Mental Health In Your Wellness Program

It's no longer enough to provide your employees with health benefits. To keep everyone productive long term, consider introducing mental health awareness into your culture.
November 12, 2013

Your team is the lifeblood of your business, and a mental health strategy will ensure that your employees are happy, engaged and satisfied with their work. Yet many health insurance and physical wellness programs typically overlook the importance of a mentally balanced workforce.

"While people may be able to work through a cold, in the middle of a mental health crisis it’'s not as easy to soldier on," explains Judi Cineas, a licensed social worker and psychotherapist in West Palm Beach, Florida. "Mental health not only affects mentality. It can be both emotionally and physically debilitating."

Cineas emphasizes that mental health and corporate ROI are inextricably linked. "Mental health can affect people for the long term," Cineas says. "It's impossible to recognize symptoms until the condition reaches a crisis point. All the while, productivity is affected."

Push Past The Stigma

One of the major roadblocks for companies is that mental health is tough to talk about. There's a stigma associated with admitting to having a psychological issue. "It may take time to generate buy-in and convince employees to take advantage of established programs," Cineas explains.

One way to build comfort is to incorporate mental health awareness into an organization's culture. "Work with a local provider who can provide certain services for your team as a group," Cineas says. "Plan presentations on stress management, conflict resolution and burnout prevention that can be done as part of a team meeting or staff retreat."

"Employers can work with local providers to offer a program that makes sense for them and their staff. There's also the option of going through insurance plans established within the company," she adds.

Ask Employees To Lead

A key way for businesses to build internal support for mental health programs is to include employees in the decision-making process. "They're more likely to use and promote it if they feel they were involved in the process," says Emad Rahim, dean of the Business School at Colorado Technical University.

Make the experience as positive as possible by actively removing any negative connotations of the program.

"Promote it under a wellness program to avoid any negative mental illness stigma, and, most importantly, include these services in the health benefits package to save them money," explains Rahim. "The easier the process, the better it is for everyone."

Protect Confidentiality

Mental health is a highly personal topic, and no one is going to seek help if their needs are public knowledge to peers, direct reports, supervisors and administrators.

"Confidentiality is a key issue, and can be a barrier to employee engagement," says Alicia H. Clark, a licensed clinical psychologist. "Employees need a way to know they can seek services without ill effect to their jobs. Companies therefore need to set up ways to protect employees' confidentiality whether their programs are housed within or outside the company."

One way to address the confidentiality challenge is to work with an external consultant, operating what's known as an Employee Assistance Program. "A company can hire or contract with mental health practitioners who can provide services on-site, or elsewhere," Clark says.

The key is to talk about mental health and wellness, make it part of your culture, but be careful not to single out individual employees. This balance is critical for implementing an effective and thoughtful program.

Ritika specializes in business, marketing, entrepreneurship and tech. She writes for Forbes, Investopedia, Business Insider, CMO and the SAP Innovation Blog.

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