Mental Health in the Workplace

woman at desk, man standing, as they look at papersMental health issues such as stress, anxiety,  depression and other conditions are routinely listed as top concerns in employee health surveys.  More than 90 percent of employees agree that their mental and personal problems spill over into their professional lives, and have a direct impact on their job performance. Even moderate levels of depressive or anxiety symptoms can affect work performance and productivity. It is in the employer’s best interest to address mental health as part of a worksite wellness program.

Why Build a Healthy Workplace?

A positive work environment decreases stress, improves overall health, and boosts productivity (NMHA 2006). Most mental illnesses are highly treatable at 70-90 percent; however, untreated mental illness can increase the risk for possible suicide. Employers can do more to promote integrated mental and physical health care by creating supportive workplaces that destigmatize mental illness, encourage self-screening, and connect employees to resources. These successful businesses will not only generate cost savings seen in improved employee engagement and well-being, results will be shown in higher product quality, better cost control, greater employee loyalty, and healthier workplaces.

The Cost

Mental health issues have a significant impact on the workplace. The following Two electricinas working on a breaker boxdata outlines the scope of the issue:

  • In 2001, mental health and substance abuse treatment costs totaled $104 billion and represented 7.6% of total healthcare spending in the United States. Depression alone cost employers an estimated $44 billion in lost productivity. 1
  • Mental illness causes more days of work loss and work impairment than many other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and arthritis. Approximately 217 million days of work are lost annually due to productivity decline related to mental illness and substance abuse disorders, costing United States employers $17 billion each year. 2
  • Mental illness and substance abuse disorders, combined as a group, are the fifth leading cause of short-term disability and the third leading cause of long-term disability for employers in the United States. A Watson Wyatt survey found that fifty-three percent of employers reported that return to work is more difficult for employees following an absence for a psychiatric disability than after an absence for a general medical disability. 3
  • Research has shown that individuals with chronic medical conditions and untreated co-morbid mental illness or substance abuse disorders are the  most complicated and costly cases. For example: healthcare use and healthcare costs are up to twice as high among diabetes and heart disease patients with co-morbid depression, compared to those without depression, even when accounting for other factors such as age, gender, and other illnesses. 2
  1. Marlowe, J.B. (2002). Depression’s surprising toll on employee productivity. Employee Benefits Journal. March, 16-20.
  2. Finch RA. Phillips K. Center for Prevention and Health Services. An Employer's Guide to Behavioral Health Services: A Roadmap and Recommendations for Evaluating, Designing, and Implementing Behavioral Health Services. Washington, DC: National Business Group on Health; 2005.
  3. Watson Wyatt Worldwide. (1998). Staying at Work Survey, 1998.Alexandria, VA: Available from:
Source: Building the Mentally Healthy Workplace: A Strategic Plan for Improving Employer Mental Health Practices.
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