Employees need mental health support

This is the third post of five in which I discuss trends for 2013, bringing you up to date on my predictions from last year.

In 2012, I forecast increasing interest in behavioral and mental health interventions in the workplace, combined with greater involvement by occupational health professionals in directing workers and their families to employee assistance programs (EAPs).

The need for employers to pay close attention to employees’ mental health remains urgent. Recent tragedies such as the Sandy Hook School shooting are poignant reminders. In healthcare settings alone, incidents of violence against caregivers by patients, family members and visitors suffering from mental health disorders are an ongoing concern.

About a quarter of American adults suffer from some type of mental health problem each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and 6 percent suffer severe disorders that can lead to hospitalization and lost work time. Thousands of employees with undiagnosed/untreated symptoms of depression miss work, costing American companies an estimated $44 billion a year in lost productivity. In addition, substance abuse, inter-personal relationship problems, bereavement and stress routinely result in presenteeism (diminished work capacity) and work absence.

Employers who provide EAPs as a benefit recognize that professional counseling and mental health treatment referrals produce significant cost benefits and high employee satisfaction while reducing liability. About 78 percent of employers have an EAP, according to the Society for Human Resource Managers’ 2012 Employee Benefits Survey (n=550). Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2012 National Compensation Survey found 52 percent of civilian workers have access to an EAP, compared to 40 percent in 2005.

By comparison, 37 percent of employees had access to wellness services as a benefit, even though EAP interventions are exponentially more effective when they are combined nutrition, exercise and stress-reduction programs and education on early identification of mental health issues. This suggests that occupational health programs can better serve their clients by aligning wellness, behavioral health services and case management within their own organizations and through relationships with selected vendors.

Recommended Resources

One place to look for inspiration is Canada, where a Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013) voluntary standard was just released. The standard features systematic guidelines to help Canadian employers create and sustain safe and healthy work environments. The standard, reportedly the first of its kind in the world, was jointly developed by the Canadian Standard Association (CSA) and Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) with support from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

In October, the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Foundation, and Employers Health, an Ohio-based employer coalition, announced a collaboration to develop a workplace education program to motivate employees and their families to seek help when needed. The program will include a human resource toolkit with directions for implementation and rollout and employee materials on the warning signs of depression.

To help address the needs of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress and other disorders upon return to civilian life and jobs following active duty, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a Community Provider Toolkit to facilitate communication and coordination of care among local providers and the VA.

The optimal clinical resource is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM); the much-anticipated fifth edition is scheduled for release in May.

Additional mental health resources are available at Disability.gov. Visit USA.gov to find services in your area.

UL gives employee health professionals more of the tools they need to keep people safe, healthy and on the job.