Mental health issues in the workplace, expert Abbie Rosenberg weighs in

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Q:  As a manager, we are seeing a rise in mental health issues in our workplace.  Most of these concerns are occurring within our 20 something employees.  Is there something we can do to support our employees?  Our EAP (Employee Assistance Program) is one resource, but are there others?  We have had three employees use PFML and with a 10-employee company, that is a lot.

A:  Over the last several years, employers in the US have realized that mental health issues are part of an employee’s overall health and wellness.  According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), about one in five US adults experience mental illness each year.  In 2020, NAMI also reported that among young adults in the US (18-25 years old), 1 in 3 experienced a mental illness, while 1 in 10 experienced a serious mental illness. Many young adults also reported that COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted their mental health.

Abbie Rosenberg, PMHNP-BC, RN, founder and executive director of a Boston-based nonprofit organization, Mental Health Collaborative shares “Young adults are questioning what they want from their jobs/careers aside from a paycheck, and as mental health awareness grows, more people in general are questioning their willingness to sacrifice their mental well-being for their employers.”  Rosenberg also points to Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey. The survey found that 46% of young adults report feeling burnt out due to the demands and intensity of their work environment. In 2020, the CDC also shared data reporting that 63% of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression–more than double the average of all adults surveyed. Rosenberg recommends that employers focus on educating employees on several components of mental health literacy:

  1. Educate employees on the four components of mental health literacy. The average delay between when people first experience signs and symptoms of mental illness and when they first begin treatment is 8-11 years. This is due to stigma, lack of access to care, lack of knowledge, and more. Employees should know 1) how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness, 2) how to obtain and maintain good mental health, 3) when, where, and how to access treatment, and 4) how to talk about mental health. Invest in educating your employees, which demonstrates that you care about their humanity and not just their productivity.
  2. Connect employees to the resources they need. We cannot take care of our mental health when our basic needs are unmet. Healthcare is one basic need, where an employer can directly have an impact.
  3. Create a supportive work culture. Check in with employees.  Ask about their professional and personal lives. Enforce healthy work/life balance by encouraging employees to leave work on time and disconnect once they are home. Talk about mental health and EAPs frequently. Connect with your employees.  Give genuine praise when a job is well done. Provide negative feedback constructively (vs. punitively).
  4. Ensure that employees are taking time off.  The “face time” world of who is in the office first, and who remains in the office past five is an outdated measure of productivity.  Offer flexibility for personal time, which could be used for a doctor’s appointment or to attend a parent/teacher conference.

Many of our clients are now offering “wellness days.”  An employee can take a day off to spend with an old friend, adopt a dog or go to the beach. One of our clients that the purpose of these days is for employees to “to fill their cups.”

Rosenberg adds “Overall, mental health strategies will not work in a culture where mental health problems are negatively judged. where there is a lack of support and education and/or where behaviors such as long working hours and expecting to be available 24/7 is the norm.”

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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