Mental Health: Are You Aware?

Since 1949, May has been recognized as mental health awareness month in the U.S.  Recent incidents in the news have highlighted the importance of cultivating a greater understanding of mental health issues and why it’s especially important in the workplace.

Photo by Sander van der Wel, Wikimedia

Most employers understand that mental health issues impact productivity, health costs and absenteeism. According to the Center for Mental Health in the Workplace, the cost of a psychologically unsafe workplace is staggeringly high. Work environments where employees experience high demand, low control, high effort and low reward are considered psychologically unsafe. Employees in these work environments are more likely to suffer a variety of adverse effects including the following[1]:

Health Costs

  • 3 times as many heart problems
  • 3 times as much back pain
  • 5 times the instances of certain types of cancer
  • 2-3 times the number of injuries of all types
  • 2-3 times the frequency of infections
  • 2-3 times as many conflicts
  • 2-3 times the number of mental health issues
  • 2-3 times the occurrences of substance abuse

Performance Costs

  • Reduced adaptability
  • Reduced ability to cope with change
  • Impaired learning
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased sense of helplessness
  • Increased passivity OR increased aggression/conflict

Awareness is the first step. According to the Surgeon General, one in five adults (20%) will experience a diagnosable mental illness in any given year.[2] About 15% of those will also experience substance abuse at the same time. The statistics are staggering and the indirect costs to employers are estimated at $80 to $100 billion per year.[3]  What are you doing this month (and year round) to promote good mental health in your workplace?


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[2] Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, December 1999.

[3] A Mentally Healthy Workforce – It’s Good for Business.

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