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Companies: Neglecting Mental Health Will Cost You

I don't know an easy, smushy way to say this to make companies feel at ease and comfortable.

So, I'll just say it.

Companies need better ways to handle mental health, and the way they're doing it right now is hurting their employees and customer base.

Recently, a former work colleague suffering from suicidal depression killed himself. I cannot use this as a platform to promote my business because that's just downright disgusting. But I am going to use it as a platform to talk about how crappy most company's policies are on mental health.

First off, let's get some realistic numbers.

Screenshot of "Mental Health Facts in America" from the National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Click the image or here for the full infographic.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience a mental illness. Let's look at your typical small to mid-size business. That means if you have at least 5 employees, one of them has a mental illness. So, if you're a small mom-and-pop (or burgeoning seed-funded startup), you have at least one employee that needs some sort of help. And seeing that 90% of suicides have an underlying mental health issue, that particular employee is at risk of killing themselves.

Now, this is not to mistake that everyone with a mental illness is suicidal. That is not the point here. The point is that many people go about their lives thinking that having a serious mental illness is rare (1 in 25 adults in the U.S. have one), and that most people are getting help (nearly 60% of adults in the U.S. with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year). What this means is that we have a lot more on our plate to do regarding the treatment, diagnosis, and awareness of mental health issues.

But I like to think of it this way: of 24 hours in a day, 8 of it is spent sleeping, and 8-10 of it is spent at the workplace. The other remaining 6-8 are spent trying to do whatever couldn't be done while eating and working. That means trying to spend time with family, eat, shower, run errands, etc. all get mashed up in that time. Goodness help the person if they have a traffic jam or late-night meeting getting in the way. Knock off another couple of hours and any time being a typical human being is cut down to the equivalent of a couple of movies with commercial breaks.

With all this said, it's easy to see that most adults living in the United States need more of a substantial plan that goes beyond the typical mental health genre. Companies need to have on-site help that will assist the typical person with a mental health crisis. Most won't need this, for sure, but having a mental health professional readily available where a person spends most of their waking and productive hours of their days could considerably decrease issues associated with declining mental health. A 2008 study from the National Institute of Health (NIH) cites the following benefits to having on-site counseling in the workplace:

  • Decrease costs related to turnover, burnouts, absenteeism & accident-related disability.

  • Improvement in employee performance & therefore increase in productivity.

  • Counselor can play the role of a business partner to manage behavioral problems brought about by organizational changes.

The study also stresses that our educational system does not equip most people with living skills. So counseling can help train people to manage themselves and thus enhancing personal growth. This can provide a reciprocal benefit back to the corporation, enabling more productive personnel. One company even touts lowering their turnover rate to about 3 percent as a result. In 2015, the company was awarded by the American Psychological Association for its commitment to mental health, which noted that their mental health program wasn't just support, it was a part of the company's culture.

The role companies play in mental health of their employees is important. Research has already shown that the benefits not only help with retention, but also the overall benefits to the company atmosphere, as a whole. Team building exercises are fun, and the occasional happy hour is a plus, but a focus more towards the seriousness in which we are treating mental health and its associated issues provide a goal post towards a more successful future of work.

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