Mental illness affects more of your workforce than you may realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million U.S. adults—or approximately one in five—experiences a mental illness in a given year. For 10 million of them, the mental illness is serious enough to substantially interfere with or limit one or more of their major life activities.
While depression and anxiety disorders—including posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias—are the most common, your employees may also be dealing with other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It is estimated that serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year.
Most of your employees who suffer from mental illnesses will do their best to never have to tell you about them. However, it’s up to employers to be proactive and establish ways to handle employee mental health issues at work when they arise. Experts advise addressing them on a case-by-case basis using the following steps.
- Acknowledge the issue. Whether an employee comes to you directly or you notice signs and symptoms that seem to point to a possible mental illness, the first step is to acknowledge the issue and speak candidly yet sensitively with the employee.
- Gather the facts. Evaluate the effect of the mental health issue on your employee’s job performance. You should discuss this with the employee as well as his or her supervisors and managers. Consider reasonable accommodations you may be able to make to help the employee continue functioning productively.
- Learn more about the mental illness itself. Consider speaking with a healthcare provider as well as a lawyer to learn more about reasonable expectations, possible accommodations and any legal requirements associated with the particular mental health issue. Legal obligations in regards to mental health accommodations may vary from state to state. Many mental illnesses are considered disabilities and protected accordingly under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Make any necessary changes. Based on your conversations, legal obligations and what you’ve learned about the nature of the mental health issue your employee is dealing with, adjust job duties and/or expectations. Continue to check in with your employee to make sure the changes are working for them and progress is being made.
Managing mental health issues in the workplace can be challenging. In addition to the steps above, adding an employee assistance program (EAP) to your benefits package may help. EAPs are voluntary, confidential programs that benefit any employee with a personal or work-related problem—not just those suffering from mental illness. Short-term counseling and assessments can help workers deal with alcohol and substance abuse problems, stress, grief and family difficulties as well as psychological disorders. To learn more about your EAP options, contact us today.