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Charlie Vance: Mental health — the impact for Kentucky employers; there is a crisis

Let me start by stating the obvious: we have a mental health crisis that is national in scale and also very much affecting our local community.

This is a particularly poignant time for our community to have this discussion because of the recent reprehensible mass shootings and several high-profile celebrity suicides. Additionally, many of us are still healing from the recent suicide of a revered local business leader and community role model.

As such, now is the time for a conversation about addressing mental health as a business community because, first, it is the right thing to do and, second, there is a strong business case for investing in a mentally healthy workforce. That investment starts with an understanding of the scope of the problem and what role businesses play in causation, prevention, and treatment.

Charlie Vance

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have steadily increased in the United States in the past 20 years by 25 percent, with Kentucky seeing a 36.6 percent increase from 1999 to 2016. What’s more alarming is that this research also found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

The Cost to Employers

With one in five adults (or 43.8 million adults) experiencing mental illness in a given year, barriers to or gaps in mental health coverage can impact a company’s profitability and an employee’s livelihood. A recent report from the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions (NAHPC) noted that mental health and substance use disorders cost employers nearly $225.8 billion each year. Additionally, according to a study by the World Health Organization, more than 200 million days are lost from work each year due to depression alone. Meanwhile, workplace stressors, such as overwork, lack of clear instructions, unrealistic deadlines, and job insecurity are contributing factors to mental illness among employees.

Mental health and substance use disorders impact more than just those who are afflicted by them. Friends and family become caretakers in the absence of other affordable options and employers incur the indirect costs due to sick days, turnover, and reduced productivity. While absenteeism is a noticeable major expense, presenteeism – when employees report to work while ill – often goes unrecognized. The NAHPC report measuring health-related productivity loss estimated that individuals working with untreated illnesses cost employers $1,601 per person each year.  The economic costs are glaring and devastating, yet few employers are tackling the problem head-on.

How Employers Can Create Change

Creating a healthy workplace begins with evaluating your company’s current benefits structure and culture. Are there gaps in coverage or treatment options currently available to your employees? Consider an assessment with a local employee benefits expert to assist in setting up an employee assistance program (EAP). Whether its workplace meditation, yoga, or referral services – regularly reviewing, analyzing, and communicating these offerings can increase participation in treatment programs and prevent problems from growing into something larger.

Training is available to help managers recognize, address, and support a team member struggling with mental health. While managers are not and should not serve as therapists, employees should feel safe discussing their mental health and needs for accommodations with HR as it relates to their day-to-day responsibilities and job performance. Likewise, employers should be open to providing accommodations to employees with mental illness including job reassignment and scheduling changes. Encouraging open dialogue about mental health creates a trusting environment where people can ask for help without judgment.

Prioritizing the mental and emotional wellbeing of your employees not only increases productivity, it can also transform a struggling workplace culture. Providing your team with the right resources and support to succeed will help ensure that they remain motivated and healthy to promote the success of the business.

Addressing the Stigma

While the topic of mental health and substance use disorders has become more publicized lately with the recent passing of several prominent celebrities, the mental health stigma remains fully intact in our country and in our local community.

Addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders, in some form or severity, touch almost all of us directly or through close friends or family. Yet we avoid speaking openly about our own struggles out of fear of impertinent judgment or simply to adhere to socially established cordiality.

Our collective silence serves as a blockade to treatment for our friends, family, and coworkers, which is why I am raising my hand and beginning to discuss my own struggles with episodic anxiety and depression. To reduce the stigma associated with mental health, we have to begin acknowledging that it touches us all in some way, whether directly or indirectly through loved ones. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but a courageous and selfless act.

Charlie Vance is CEO of Erigo Employer Solutions

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One Comment

  1. Harold A Maio says:

    —- the mental health stigma remains fully intact in our country and in our local community.

    Most importantly, it is there in YOUR mind. Work to remove it there, that is step one.
    Step two is to decline to provide it support elsewhere.

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