Addressing Employee Mental Health and Distress
NSC Recommendations for Employers
The workplace has significant impacts on employee mental health and wellbeing. One risk factor for experiencing mental distress is experiencing stress, which can be exacerbated or caused by workplace conditions. Chronic exposure to stressful workplace conditions can lead to a variety of mental health conditions, including experiences of depression, anxiety, an inability to concentrate and emotional exhaustion.
Both the content and context of work can play a role in the development of mental distress and illness. Key factors include:
Employers must address mental health and support overall employee wellbeing in the workplace on both individual and systemic levels. Providing support for individuals, enhancing treatment coverage, and educating employees are critical actions, detailed below. However, they will have limited impact if workplaces do not simultaneously work towards the reduction or elimination of stressors in the workplace themselves. Other organization-level measures must be sustained, evaluated and shifted according to workplace need, and must focus on addressing, reducing, and eliminating the variety of workplace stressors and factors listed above.
Leading by example and building a culture of health and wellbeing are critical. Leaders, supervisors and other managers have an essential role in addressing mental health and distress, and encouraging social connectedness in the workplace. Strong social connections in the workplace improve mental health. A workplace with a strong culture of health and wellbeing is one that promotes workers’ mental wellbeing, actively works to protect employee mental health, and does not harm employee mental health in negligent, reckless or intentional ways.
Building mental, emotional and psychological safety into every process (communications, trainings, etc.) builds resilience in the workforce. Resilience can help protect employees from various mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Resilience can also help offset factors that increase the risk of mental health conditions, such as being bullied or previous trauma. Leadership can reduce stigma by speaking candidly and frequently about mental health, and remaining publicly committed to leading a behaviorally healthy workplace.
Workplaces should ensure robust supervisor training on topics and skills related to mental health and supporting employees experiencing mental distress. These include, but are not limited to:
Employers have a unique ability and responsibility to manage their relationship with benefit providers, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and health insurance plans to ensure employees have access to the help and support they need. HR teams and supervisors can help make this difference a reality. Workplaces should develop and promote policies and procedures that promote and support general mental health and mental wellbeing.
Communication about mental health and distress in the workplace is critical. Openly engaging, discussing, normalizing and being proactive about mental health can have substantial benefits and reduce the stigmas surrounding mental health and distress and seeking support. Employee education on wellness, mindfulness, resilience and other innovative sciences focused on mental health, along with a focus on developing a culture focused on wellbeing and mitigation of chronic stress can positively impact workforce engagement and performance.
Educated workers can better protect themselves from the impacts of mental distress and stress. Consider building a robust education and awareness plan that ensures employees are aware of these impacts, are aware of workplace resources and know they are supported. Communicating on these topics in small, easy-to-understand pieces of information is encouraged, as is sharing on multiple channels (e.g. posters, infographics, social media, brown bag lunches, email communications, communications from leadership, etc.). All education messaging, including messaging about seeking support, should be repeated multiple times throughout the year, as many employees may not internalize or remember the information if they think they do not need it.
Addressing employee mental health and distress in the workplace requires innovative solutions, and a long-term commitment to the issue. NSC is proud to share and highlight the resources and solutions offered by our partners.
MHA is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all, including their Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health certification program.
Psych Hub is the world's largest online platform for mental health education, including an initiative focused on Mental Health and Wellness in the Workplace.
The American Psychiatric Association Foundation Center for Workplace Mental Health provides employers the tools, resources and information needed to promote and support the mental health of employees and their families.