By: Kylie Huber
It should never be embarrassing for someone to admit to an employer or coworker that they are struggling with their mental health. Moreover, nobody should feel ashamed enough to suffer in silence and hit a low point before finally feeling that their struggles necessitate support. However, this is the reality of American workplaces, as 50-60% of adults who face mental illnesses do not receive care until after they have suffered for years—often over a decade, before receiving treatment. This problem is exacerbated by conditions like poor social support from coworkers, as well as commonplace bullying and workplace abuse.
Mental health issues should not be problems left for workers to manage alone in their private lives, as workplace environments must be held accountable as well. The problem among American workplaces is that their health and wellness programs target behavior among individuals rather than addressing the actual work environment’s structure.
This issue of mental health is urgent because employees’ health significantly affects job performance. This relationship between mental health and employees’ productivity is especially relevant as job titles become more fluid and have greater requirements for creativity and aptitude. Aside from the obvious concern for workers’ well-being, employees’ mental health is instrumental to workplace productivity. The well-being of employees is a matter of an organization’s success and can no longer be left solely to human resources departments. Upper management must work with and listen to employees, while additionally further working with policymakers who can implement mental health services as specific employee benefits instead of offering them as mere side suggestions for employees to look into on their own time.
This influence can also be utilized within the business community to create positive change in workplace well-being. The first understanding that organizations should revisit is the frequent classification of health issues as either mental or physical. This dichotomy can be problematic when trying to access effective treatment. Quite frequently, physical ailments can overshadow one’s mental condition, when oftentimes the latter can cause the former. One thing managers can do on their own is give employees greater opportunity to interact with their colleagues rather than simply mentioning the importance of mental care via communication chains and then rarely taking action to make it present at the company.
After realizing that both mental and physical health are influenced by each other, employers can specifically petition lawmakers for whichever services employees have voiced that they needed most. For companies located in rural or lower-income communities, this can be done by working with local organizations and by connecting remotely with telehealth services. However, to sufficiently work with remote telehealth organizations, increased literacy with digital work is necessary. Some states have already made efforts toward improving digital health systems. This collaboration is exemplified by state efforts at improving digital literacy, such as a bill introduced in Utah that establishes an office to manage public-private relations that refine public usage of telehealth programs.
The suggested public-private partnership toward greater mental health resources for workers must be prioritized because, as students, we have seen how the pressures of productivity and high achievement increase symptoms of depression, anxiety, or burnout. These circumstances will continue or even exacerbate in our future in the workforce if action is not taken.
Ron Z. Goetzel et al., “Mental Health in the Workplace: A Call to Action Proceedings From the Mental Health in the Workplace-Public Health Summit,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 60, no. 4 (April 2018): 322, https://doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000001271.
Shantanu Nundy and Vivian S. Lee, “How U.S. Employers Can Help Provide Better Health Care,” Harvard Business Review (Harvard University, September 15, 2021), https://hbr.org/2021/09/how-u-s-employers-can-help-provide-better-health-care.
David Velasquez et al., “Ensuring The Growth of Telehealth During COVID-19 Does Not Exacerbate Disparities In Care,” Health Affairs Blog (May 2020), 10.1377/hblog20200505.591306.
Elizabeth Ansert et al., “Feeling the Burnout: Perceptions of Burnout, Anxiety, Depression, and Personal Achievement in US Podiatric Medical Students,” Journal of Foot and Ankle Surgery 60, no. 4 (July-August 2021): 747-752, https://doi.org/10.1053/j.jfas.2021.02.007