Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace (Information and Tips)

27 December 2023
10 min read
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As of 2021, over 47 million Americans experience some form of mental illness, whereas 4.55% of that number experience a severe mental illness. Several reports and surveys reveal that mental health is at an all-time high in the US, with people reporting the highest levels of anxiety and depression in recent years. 

In some cases, work can have a positive impact on employees struggling with mental health. The right workplace can provide a supportive environment, a way to stay engaged and connected, and a support network. 

The opposite, however, can also be true. A negative work environment can lead employees to struggle with their mental illnesses more severely and push others to experience mental health problems such as burnout, work-related stress, and severe anxiety for the first time. 

In turn, this causes problems for employees and employers alike, with lack of productivity, work impairment, and loss of profitability being only a few of them. 

To avoid these issues and create a healthy and helpful work environment for all employees, understanding mental health and supporting mental health in the workplace is essential.  

This article is here to help with all of that. Here is what we’ll cover: 

  • Why is Mental Health in the Workplace Important?
  • 4 Common Mental Health Illnesses in the Workplace
  • Work-Related Mental Health Risks
  • Improving Support Toward Mental Health in the Workplace

And more! 

What Is a Mental Illness and What Is Mental Health?

Mental illness, or a mental disorder, is a mental condition that has a negative impact on the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Such conditions can harm an individual’s relationship both with themselves and the people around them. 

Out of many mental illnesses out there, the 3 most common in the US today are: 

  1. Anxiety disorders.
  2. Major depressive disorder.
  3. Bipolar disorder. 

Living with a mental illness can make everyday life extremely challenging. Not only do mental disorders negatively impact one’s quality of life, but they can also risk their physical health. For example, people who suffer from depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. 

A term that’s typically related to mental illness is mental health.  

Mental health refers to our mental, emotional, and social well-being. In addition to impacting how we think, feel, and act, mental health also determines how we handle stress, how we interact with others, and whether we make healthy choices. 

Mental illness and poor mental health are often used interchangeably; however, they’re not the same thing. A person can go through periods of poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Similarly, a person who is diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of strong mental health. 

Why is Mental Health in the Workplace Important?

As we already mentioned, mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. This means that people who live with mental illnesses (or suffer from weak mental health) are more at risk of chronic physical conditions.  

Additionally, mental health is tightly linked with professional performance. Employees who enjoy good mental health are capable of coping with stress, challenges, and setbacks in their lives. They are eager to flourish in their roles and reach their highest potential. 

On the other hand, not supporting mental health in the workplace can lead to:

  • Communication issues
  • Poor decision-making
  • Physical incapability and poor health
  • Low productivity and work performance
  • Low engagement with one’s work 

4 Common Mental Health Illnesses in the Workplace

#1. Depression

Nearly three in ten (28%) of US organizations reported mental/behavioral health issues as one of their most detrimental health care conditions in terms of productivity, employee satisfaction, and profitability. 

On a similar note, depression is also cited as the most common mental illness among the general population. 

In the workplace, depression is likely to manifest in the form of behaviors (e.g. restlessness or irritability) and in physical complaints (e.g. complaining about aches and pains). Additionally, depressed employees often become passive, withdrawn, and unproductive. They may feel fatigued due to sleep deprivation and display clouded decision-making. 

Depressed employees are also more likely to lose or change jobs, retire prematurely, or experience on-the-job functional limitations and absences. 

#2. Bipolar disorder

This mental disorder is characterized by switching between elevated and depressive episodes. 

In their manic phase, workers appear energized and creative, but they’re not necessarily productive. If they experience full-blown mania in this elevated phase, they might even become disruptive, ignore workplace rules, display aggressive behavior, and make mistakes in judgment (e.g. overspend a budget or fight with a customer). In their depressive phase, employees typically appear depressed. Although the manic phase is more noticeable at work, research shows it’s the depressive episodes that hinder productivity the most. 

According to employee responses to the World Health Organization work performance questionnaire, workers with bipolar disorder lose the equivalent of about 28 work days annually from sick time and other absences, and another 35 from lost productivity. 

#3. Anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorders in the workplace typically manifest as restlessness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, or excessive worrying. Additionally, employees may need constant reassurance about their work performance and even display physical symptoms, such as irritability and aggravation. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 72% of people who experience stress and anxiety on a daily basis say it interferes with their lives at least moderately, but only 9% have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. On top of that, the majority of people who seek medical help receive it for physical problems such as gastrointestinal distress, sleep disturbances, or heart trouble rather than for anxiety.

As such, anxiety disorders cause work impairment almost equal to that attributed to major depressive episodes. 

#4. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Although ADHD is majorly considered a mental disorder most common among children, it can well continue into adulthood too. 

In the workplace, ADHD manifests as disorganization, procrastination, inability to meet deadlines and manage workloads, problems following instructions, and arguments with co-workers. 

ADHD can significantly negatively impact an employee’s performance and career. Workers who suffer from ADHD lose a total of 22 days annually and are 18 times more likely to be disciplined for unprofessional behavior. At the same time, research suggests workers with ADHD earn 20% to 40% less than other workers. Last but not least, they are two to four times more likely to get terminated than other employees. 

New survey results on ADHD revealed that 60% of adults with ADHD said they had lost or changed a job and attributed the job loss to their ADHD symptoms. Meanwhile, more than 36% reported having 4 or more jobs in the past 10 years.  

Work-Related Mental Health Risks

In most cases, employees are already suffering from mental health issues caused by something unrelated to their employment.

In other cases, however, the work environment can actually be the main cause of mental health issues and distress. 

Here are the main culprits of work-related mental health issues: 

  • Inadequate safety policies. Workplaces with poor safety policies may decrease employee mental health and result in higher employee turnover.
  • Deadlines. Although a healthy and reasonable amount of deadlines can be good for productivity, jobs that give employees an unreasonable amount of deadlines risk causing them anxiety and work-induced stress.  
  • Poor communication and staff management. Poor communication practices between employers and employees can create a strain on workplace relationships and increase workplace stress. 
  • Discrimination and hostile work environment. Workplace discrimination and toxic work environments (e.g. bullying) can seriously impact an employee’s mental health.
  • Low control over one’s area of work. Feeling as if you have no say over the decision-making process and as if you’re simply obeying orders can impact your work performance and cause work-related anxiety. 
  • Inflexible working hours. Work-life balance is extremely important when it comes to employees’ mental health. Without enough time for family, friends, and other activities, their mental health may suffer. 

Improving Support Toward Mental Health in the Workplace

Now, let’s get to the part that really matters. 

What can be done to improve support for mental health in the workplace, 

In this section, we’ll cover practices or methodologies that employers, care providers, businesses, and even employees themselves, can use to contribute to the cause. 

Employers Can: 

  1. Ensure all employees have access to mental health self-assessment tools, including general health questionnaires and depression, anxiety, and stress scales. 
  2. Provide employees health insurance with no or low costs for depression medications and mental health counseling. 
  3. Share educational materials (brochures, flyers, and videos) with your employees about the signs and symptoms of mental disorders and poor mental health and inform them of treatment opportunities. 
  4. Allow employees to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress (deadline and staff management, control over their work, etc.). 
  5. Hold seminars that address depression and stress management techniques, like mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation, to help employees reduce anxiety.
  6. Create and maintain quiet spaces for activities that support and promote mental health in the workplace, including yoga, meditation, etc.
  7. Train managers to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders in team members and encourage them to seek help. 
  8. Offer free or subsidized clinical screenings for depression from a qualified mental health professional, followed by directed feedback and clinical referral when appropriate.

Employees Can: 

  1. Encourage employers to offer mental health and stress management education and programs.
  2. Participate in training on topics such as financial planning and how to manage unacceptable behaviors and attitudes in the workplace as a way to help others.
  3. Share personal experiences with others to help reduce stigma.
  4. Be open-minded about the experiences and feelings of coworkers. Respond with empathy, offer peer support, and encourage others to seek help. 
  5. Take part in activities that promote stress management and relaxation, such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, etc. 
  6. Take part in employer-sponsored programs and activities to learn skills and get the support they need to improve their mental health.
  7. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
  8. Build and nurture real-life, face-to-face social connections.
  9. Take the time to reflect on positive experiences and express happiness and gratitude.
  10. Set and work toward personal, wellness, and work-related goals and ask for help.

Care Providers and Public Healthcare Researchers Can:

  1. Ask their patients about depression or anxiety proactively and recommend screenings, treatment, and services as appropriate.
  2. Include clinical psychologists, social workers, and physical and occupational therapists, as part of core treatment teams to provide mental health care.
  3. Develop a “how-to” guide to help in the design, implementation, and assessment of workplace health programs that address mental health and stress issues.
  4. Create a mental health scorecard that employers can use to assess their work environment and identify areas for intervention.
  5. Develop a recognition program that rewards employers who demonstrate improvements in metrics of mental health and well-being.
  6. Establish training programs in partnership with business schools to teach leaders how to build and sustain a mentally healthy workforce and supportive work environment.

Businesses and Community Leaders Can:

  1. Promote mental health and stress management programs for working adults through public health departments, recreational agencies, and community centers.
  2. Support community programs that indirectly reduce risks, for example, by increasing access to affordable housing, opportunities for physical activity (like sidewalks and trails), tools to promote financial well-being, etc.
  3. Create a system that employees, employers, and health care providers can use to find community-based programs that address mental health and stress management.

Governments Can:

  1. Provide tool kits and materials for companies and employers delivering mental health and stress management education.
  2. Provide courses, guidance, and decision-making tools to help people manage their mental health.
  3. Collect data on workers’ well-being and conduct prevention and biomedical research to guide ongoing public health innovations.
  4. Promote strategies designed to reach people in underserved communities, such as the use of community health workers to help patients access mental health and substance abuse prevention services.

Success Stories of Businesses Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace

There are plenty of businesses out there that have taken action to support mental health in the workplace and reaped great results. 

Here are five examples worth mentioning: 

  • Prudential Financial has normalized the discussion around mental health by encouraging senior leadership to share their own stories. The company also proactively monitors its own managerial practices to make sure that they’re not overstressing or overwhelming its employees. 
  • Beehive PR has established InZone, a dedicated, wifi-free room that allows employees to go there and “recharge.” Beehive PR also promotes professional and personal development through goal-setting, one-on-one coaching, and biannual retreats. 
  • Tripler Army Medical Center puts staff members through resiliency training to reduce burnout and increase compassion and empathy skills. 
  • Houston Texans offer comprehensive physical, mental, and behavioral health insurance coverage, including access to employee assistance program (EAP) services. Moreover, it extends EAP services to employees’ families. 
  • Certified Angus Beef provides free wellness consultations by an on-site clinical psychologist and offers quarterly guided imagery relaxation sessions to teach stress management strategies.

14 Statistics on Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental health can create problems in the workplace - and the numbers are here to prove it. 

Here are some of the most impactful statistics on mental health in the workplace:  

  1. According to Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workplace report, 57% of U.S. workers reported feeling daily stress, up by eight percentage points from the prior year.
  2. The American Institute of Stress found that 94% of workers report feeling stress at work, and about one-third say the stress they feel is “unusually high.” 
  3. Korn Ferry found that 16% of employees have quit a job because of stress. 
  4. Gallup also found that younger Americans between the ages of 15 and 49 are among the most stressed, worried, and angry in the U.S.
  5. The American Psychological Association revealed that five hundred fifty million workdays are lost each year due to stress.
  6. McKinsey & Co.’s Women in the Workplace Report suggests that the gap between women and men who say they burned out has nearly doubled in the last year.
  7. The same report found that burnt-out employees are less likely to respond to survey requests about said burnout, and the most burned-out employees may have already left the workforce. 
  8. The Center for Disease Control revealed that depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time.
  9. Depression is estimated to cost the United States between $36.6 and $51.5 billion annually in lost productivity.
  10. Only about 9% of those who sought care from general practitioners received care according to published guidelines for bipolar disorder, compared with 45% of those who sought care from mental health professionals.
  11. According to PwC’s 2021 Health and Well-being Touchstone Survey, 53% of employers added mental health programs to address COVID-19 concerns in 2021. 
  12. 72% of employees want employers to champion mental health and well-being, but 63% think their workplace is unhelpful.
  13. 70% of employees enrolled in wellness programs have reported higher job satisfaction than those not enrolled in the companies’ programs. 
  14. 67% of employees suffering from mental illness report that it is challenging to access care. 

5 Benefits of Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Without a physical issue to keep you from going and coming from work, it can be easy to sweep mental health concerns under the rug. 

Doing so, however, comes with a heap of negative consequences - loss of productivity and work performance being only two of many. 

Taking care of your mental health, on the other hand, allows you to: 

  1. Cope more effectively with difficult situations in your professional and personal life. 
  2. Lower your risk of physical illnesses and increase your energy. 
  3. Recognize and express your emotions and empathize better with the emotions of others. 
  4. Manage stress and flourish in your role.
  5. Boost your resilience and reach your full potential. 

Key Takeaways

This is everything you need to know about mental health in the workplace, from the most common mental health conditions to the steps different actors can take to support it. 

Let’s recap the main points covered in this article one last time: 

  • Mental illness, or a mental disorder, is a mental condition that has a negative impact on the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves.
  • Mental health refers to our mental, emotional, and social well-being.
  • The four most common mental health illnesses in the workplace include depression, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. 
  • Some work-related mental health risks include inadequate safety policies, poor staff management, a hostile work environment, and inflexible working hours. 
  • Some of the benefits of taking care of your mental health include being able to cope more effectively with difficult situations in your professional and personal life, lowering your risk of physical illnesses, recognizing and expressing your emotions, and being able to manage stress more effectively.