By guest columnist JUNIOR HAREWOOD, CEO of UnitedHealthcare GA & AL Employer & Individual.
The mental health statistics of recent years are as staggering as they are varied. For example, almost 20% of adults suffer from a mental illness. That’s almost 50 million Americans. Given that a third of our lives are spent at work, it’s no surprise that workplace statistics follow the same path. In fact, 31% of workers reported a deterioration in their mental health in the past year (compared to 24% the previous year). Additionally, neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States.
Rising trends like these lead to increasing numbers of costs for employees and the companies they work for. This can take the form of higher medical bills and insurance rates or, in some cases, a long-term loss of workers’ livelihoods, resulting in less tenure for the organization. Mental health at work is at an all-time low and employers need to respond. Simply put, they can’t afford not to.
Bonuses, prescriptions, and paid vacations are quantifiable, but there are also intangible prices to pay in the form of reduced productivity and a deterioration in overall company morale. Additionally, poor mental health is known to potentially affect physical health, compounding the problem (and the price). Neglecting employee mental health affects more than family household budgets and company bottom lines. So what can be done? There is no one answer, but together we can start working on a way to bridge the gap between raising awareness and providing more solutions.
Creating an inclusive work culture – free from mental health stigma – is an essential first step in supporting workforce wellbeing. Recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month is a great way to open the conversation, but it’s one that needs to continue throughout the year. Employers often brag about benefits, but how often are mental health benefits not only included, but highlighted as such? Employers must provide this information.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Education. While it is important to have a program in place that includes mental health benefits for employees, education about it is essential. Unchecked mental health issues can get worse, but knowing what resources are available can help or even prevent other illnesses.
- Leadership. Employers can make mental wellness a priority by dedicating organizational leadership to this area. As with any leadership initiative, best practices flow from the top down. Include mental health breaks and exercises in wellness programs, guidance in daily communication, and consistent reminders as with all other HR initiatives.
- The measurement. Employers have the opportunity to go deeper into the measurement and accountability of mental health outcomes. Potential measurable effects of better mental health support include fewer days missed from work and increased return-to-work rates.
By implementing and initiating corporate mental wellness communication, employees perceive a safe and supportive environment, which can lead to their overall wellbeing and increased productivity for your business. Plus, all parties involved spend less and earn a lot more.
The data clearly shows a growing employee demand for behavioral health services. This, in turn, creates a need for businesses to provide fast and efficient access to care. How do you respond to this call? I’m proud to say that UnitedHealthcare is leading the charge. From AI and employee assistance programs to self-help tools like crisis lines and virtual therapy, we continue to advance our mental health provisions.
Industry-wide change will never be easy to implement, but it is up to organizations, especially those in the healthcare sector, to prioritize the mental well-being of their employees.
Would you like to write a guest column for SaportaReport? The RS The team strives to elevate and amplify the diverse perspectives of our community, and we want to hear from you! Email editor Derek Prall to discuss details.