How Employers Can Address Mental Health and Substance Use in the Workplace

by Colleen O'Day | |  

The Tragedy of Mental Health and Substance Use in the Workplace

Mental health and substance use in the workplace are closely correlated problems. Luckily, employers can take many preventative measures.

According to a 2017 poll for the American Psychological Association, just 48 percent of working adults reported their employer provided resources to help meet mental health needs, and only 42 percent reported receiving sufficient resources to help manage stress. However, with a growing awareness of just how many employees are struggling with mental health issues, many organizations are starting to step up to the plate to meet these needs. In a recent post, the online Master of Arts in Counseling Program from the Family Institute at Northwestern University examined the mental health needs of workers and how some companies are providing more support.

Why Mental Health Services Are Needed in the Workplace

Improved Mental Health Can Reduce Issues With Substance Abuse In The WorkplaceIn the U.S., one in five employees report that mental health problems have made challenges in their jobs more difficult to handle—and younger workers may struggle the most. Only five percent of baby boomers reported that mental health issues can make work more challenging, while 17 percent of GenXers and 29 percent of millennials confirmed experiencing mental health issues related to their work.

Dr. Eric Beeson, a core faculty member at Counseling@Northwestern and a licensed professional counselor, says an increased awareness among younger workers may help explain the trend: “I think that the younger folks today have a more holistic view of well-being and are more aware of the importance of work-life balance,” he said. “However, this work-life balance is often challenged with performance demands. Thankfully, some organizations are fostering social and emotional health in the workplace, so if folks are going to sacrifice balance, some of these needs can be met in the office.”

Tips for Your Organization

Even if your company doesn’t have a program in place to support employees with mental health issues, Dr. Beeson says a few key strategies can help you get started:

  • Create a culture of acceptance;
  • Raise awareness about the reality of mental health challenges;
  • Support employees through formal training and education;
  • Incentivize wellness initiatives;
  • Promote wellness in benefits packages;

Because there is often a stigma attached to mental health issues, the first step may be the most important. “There’s sometimes the fear of repercussions,” Dr. Besson says. “There’s a fear that people will be viewed as weaker or ‘less than,’ or depending upon the mental illness, maybe (having) a moral failing of their own.”

Services for Mental Health and Substance Use

With an emphasis on employee health, the workplace provides a prime opportunity to address mental health and addiction challenges among workers. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction (NCADD), establishing an EAP is the most effective way to do it. Additional recommendations by the NCADD include:

  • Implementing drug-free workplace and other written substance use policies;
  • Offering health benefits that provide comprehensive health benefit coverage for substance use disorders;
  • Including aftercare and counseling;
  • Reducing stigma in the workplace;
  • Educating employees about the health and productivity hazards of substance use through company wellness programs.

Regardless of your role in an organization, you can make a difference in supporting the mental health needs of those in your workplace. One of the most valuable things you can do is just show you care.

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