The month of May is a time of renewal and nurturing new growth. Nowhere is that more obvious than on farms and fields of Nebraska, as another growing season begins. May is also Mental Health Awareness month, which you may be surprised to learn has been observed since 1949. It was established by the National Alliance on Mental Illness to fight the stigma, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families. An argument can be made that at no time has the need been greater than now to bring awareness—both in and outside of the workplace—to mental health.
Data compiled by the Pew Charitable Trusts indicates that more than 47,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States, making it the 12th leading cause of death in the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in mental health disorders worldwide, with increases highest among young people and women. According to the WHO, this increase coincided with severe disruptions to mental health services, leaving huge gaps in care for those who needed it most. That included services for mental, neurological and substance use conditions. Many countries also reported major disruptions in life-saving services for mental health, such as suicide prevention. While access to mental health care and services improved by 2021, too many people remain unable to get the care and support they need for both pre-existing and newly developed mental health conditions.
For decades, businesses shied away from addressing or even acknowledging mental health. Fortunately, that’s changing as education and awareness increases around this critically important aspect of our overall health and well-being. Below we look at why supporting mental health in our families, workplaces and communities is good for business, and ways business owners and their teams can get involved.
Raising the baseline
At Carson Group, we rolled out our “Raise the Baseline” initiative in December 2021, with a panel discussion on mental wellness at our new corporate offices in Omaha. The panel included executives, stakeholders and two doctors who discussed the importance of mental health in our daily lives, new breakthroughs in treatments and ways to access help and resources.
We’ve also partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) for an initiative promoting monthly “Mind-Body-Soul” campaigns within the workplace. This includes a “Talk Saves Lives Workshop,” proving the most up-to-date research on suicide prevention, and things we can do within our communities to help save lives. We have also participated in local campus “Out of Darkness” events, which are challenging endurance walks and AFSP’s flagship fundraising event. We hosted a “More Than Sad” presentation to help parents and caregivers recognize the signs for at-risk youth and when to intervene. This month, we’re hosting a Mental Health Awareness Townhall. This is an open discussion covering the spectrum of mental health and providing resources for stakeholders to help themselves and others.
While helping to raise awareness in the workplace is critically important, it’s also important to assist with other types of support. One of the ways we do that is through providing wellness dollars to stakeholders that can be used toward mental health resources such as therapy, counseling, apps, books, etc.
How supporting well-being pays off for businesses
Business owners are often reluctant to spend money on programs that don’t have a clear return. Even if there are no hard-dollar costs involved in administering programs or events, each hour of downtime, where employees are engaged outside of their immediate job duties, has an associated cost for the business. However, the real question may be: Can you afford not to support mental health in the workplace? The WHO estimates that depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. According to a Harris Poll, 76% of U.S. workers have struggled with a mental health issue, and about 42% responded “yes” when asked if they have ever been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
A CEO Roundtable study commissioned by the American Heart Association revealed that work, money and the future of the nation were the three leading causes of stress among survey respondents. As a major contributor to depression and anxiety, stress and mental illness are also considered risk factors for a number of serious physical health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. That can manifest in a number of ways in the workplace, including through higher rates of absenteeism and employee turnover, which are costly for employers.
Aside from a desire to ensure team members have access to all of the important health resources they may need, it turns out that supporting mental health initiatives in the workplace is actually good for your bottom line. A recent WHO-led study estimated that for every $1 allocated to scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. Additionally, the American Psychiatric Association (AMA) says that 80% of workers who have received treatment for mental illness report that their workplace satisfaction and productivity have increased. According to the AMA, when employees receive effective treatment for mental illnesses, the result is lower total medical costs, increased productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased disability costs. The bottom line: investing in a mentally healthy workforce is good for business.
To learn more about mental health resources for business owners and individuals, visit the sites below:
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institutes of Mental Health
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
American Psychiatric Association
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)