Gone are the days of not recognizing the importance of employee mental health, especially when it comes to its correlation to workplace injuries.
Employers play a vital role in helping employees embrace healthy lifestyles, and employers who invest in the mental health of their workforce may experience reduced worker safety issues.
Not surprisingly, employee mental and emotional health are some of the hottest topics being discussed in HR departments, board rooms, and C-Suite offices across industries.
Top HR executives recognize that mental health impacts the likelihood of employee injuries.
For example, stress and anxiety can sap employees’ energy, impact their decision-making, and affect their interpersonal relationships with co-workers, as well as friends and family. This, in turn, can create more pressure and problems in an employment setting.
As Natasha Bowman, JD, SPHR, founder of the Bowman Foundation for Workplace Equity and Mental Wellness, explained, there is a 30,000 to 1 ratio of mental health providers to the general population. These statistics prove a significant lack of access to those with mental health conditions, even those insured. Additionally, this shortage is causing burnout for mental health providers.
“Last month, mental health providers at Kaiser Permanente went on strike due to the labor shortage in their industry and how this shortage was impacting their mental health,” Bowman said.
The effect that this shortage is having on today’s workforce essentially means that many workers do not have access to mental health care solutions, although their employer provides them with medical benefits to cover the cost.
“This means that many employees who need access to mental health have to pay out of pocket, as those providers who accept insurance have no availability in their schedules for weeks or months in advance,” Bowman said.
“Therefore, companies should seek supplemental access to mental health providers at no cost to the employee. These supplemental benefits should have diverse providers that are culturally competent and available 24/7 on demand to prevent those who need immediate help from having to wait for it.”
A Mental Health Certification Program
After Bowman experienced a mental health crisis during the COVID pandemic, which resulted in a suicide attempt, involuntary hospitalization, and a bipolar diagnosis, she decided to share her mental health journey with her social media following.
“Many of the replies I received about my story were that others wished they could share their story,” Bowman said. “Still, they feared retaliation from their employer, or if they had shared their mental health condition with their employer, they were retaliated against.”
Additionally, as a former human resources C-Suite executive, workplace culture consultant, and now someone with a lived experience with mental illness, Bowman knew that HR departments were not equipped with the knowledge needed to cultivate cultures of mental wellness adequately.
“Many HR departments have relied on steps challenges, meditation, and yoga for mental wellness. Much more strategizing is needed for cultivating cultures of mental wellness, including conducting an audit of your medical benefits to determine how many mental health providers are in your network—closing the loop with your Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and coaching managers on creating safe spaces for dialogue about mental health,” Bowman said.
Because of this, Bowman decided to establish a workplace mental wellness certification program to help employees and organizations handle the increasing mental health situation facing all avenues of society.
As part of the program, each participant attends a 6.5-hour course that covers the critical components of cultivating cultures of mental wellness in their workplace, including destigmatizing mental health conditions and how to conduct an HR audit of medical benefits and legal considerations. After the course, participants have 90 days to complete a certification exam.
“This certification is essential as it equips HR professionals with the tools and resources needed to bridge the gaps between the current state of mental health resources to what is needed to ensure that every worker has access to adequate mental health care,” Bowman said.
Although the workplace mental wellness certification primarily falls under the realm of human resources, it does play an important role in the workers’ comp segment.
As Bowman explained, although it is rare, an employee may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim for a “mental” injury at work.
“A mental injury at work can result from experiencing a toxic work environment or ongoing harassment and discrimination,” Bowman said. “HR departments and organizations who are equipped with someone with this certification may be able to help to mitigate this occurring, thereby reducing their workers’ comp claims.”
Bowman stressed that the future of mental health awareness and training within the workplace and the evolution of having appropriate resources available are here to stay. Luckily more people are starting to recognize that we all need to feel comfortable saying, “I’m not feeling well – mentally or emotionally.” Today’s dialogue is now focusing on ensuring companies established resources for employees to get the help they need.
For example, some companies now have full-time licensed therapists on staff to provide opportunities to employees to talk through issues that may be causing depression, stress or anxiety. Coworkers also play a role in helping recognizing the signs that others in their workplace may not be doing well mentally or emotionally.
The evolving environment of the COVID pandemic also affected worker’s emotional well-being. From ever-changing vaccination protocols to evolving mask wearing rules to children engaging in remote learning while parents worked at home caused a wealth of anxiety and stress among employees.
“The number of people diagnosed with mental health conditions during the pandemic increased by 25 percent,” Bowman said. “This increase has highlighted the need for organization employees’ mental health resources. Additionally, employers realize that when employees are mentally well, they are better workers. Plus, cultivating cultures of mental wellness in the workplace is just the right thing to do.” &