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How can we support an employee living with a mental illness?

Employees living with mental illnesses want the same healthy workplace environments as everyone else. Ignoring mental health in the workplace causes massive losses in a business’ bottom line and creates hardship for employees. With statistics showing that 1 in 5 adults has a diagnosable mental health disorder, it is time for all employers to be proactive in workplace policies. Whether you are an employer looking to create a space with mental health in mind or an individual searching for a supportive environment, here are some key components to supporting mental health at work:

Guidelines for business conduct. The employer creates and enforces guidelines for business conduct, including a section on fair and equitable treatment and a sub-section on discrimination in the workplace. These guidelines promote compliance with all federal and state laws. Employees are made aware of their rights, including the Family and Medical Leave Act that “entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.”

Access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). The employer provides access to EAPs that can assist employees in dealing with stress-related, emotional, and psychiatric pressures that may limit their effectiveness on the job. EAPs can provide voluntary guidance, referrals, and follow-up for employees, in addition to addressing large-scale workplace needs.

Adequate mental health coverage. The employer offers insurance that provides adequate mental health coverage. Despite parity regulations, some insurance companies continue to provide more restrictions to accessing mental health services than they do to accessing care for a physical illness, despite the fact that in any given year more people will have a mental illness. Cutting dollars for mental health care can increase overall medical costs for the employee and the employer.

Accommodations. The employer has created an environment that works for those when they need accommodations and makes it clear that accommodations are available. This includes the opportunity for telework from home or flexible hours that can help when factors like doctor appointments make it difficult to maintain the same schedule.

A work-life balance strategy. The employer creates and implements policies that protect work-life balance among employees, with the goal of reducing illness and absenteeism.

Discussion of mental health at work. The employer tries to create an environment where employees can be comfortable discussing mental health concerns without fear of discrimination or stigma. This includes offering speakers on topics like mental illness and stress in the workplace.

Offer personal support. The employer and employees check in on individuals who may be struggling. If you know an individual has a cold or the flu, it is common to send well wishes or inquire as to how they are doing. Creating an environment where we check in on one another’s mental health can help individuals feel less isolated or as if they have to keep their struggles a secret.

A return-to-work policy. The employer creates disability and return-to-work strategies for all employees, including those with mental illnesses.

More Information:

What are examples of accommodations for mental health conditions?

What is a return-to-work policy?

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