Wellbeing and Mental Health

7 ways to make the workplace better for our mental health

Clear communication about mental health support is key

Nancy Brown
Chief Executive Officer, American Heart Association
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • More than one in ten people have a mental health problem.
  • 50% to 60% of adults with mental disorders do not receive the mental health services they need.
  • Corporate culture needs to change to support mental health.

Nearly 800 million people—or over one in ten globally—have a mental health disorder. It’s no wonder mental health is making headlines worldwide.

We also know that mental health does not discriminate across race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, education or income. And according to an American Heart Association Harris Poll survey, 76% of U.S. employees have struggled with at least one issue that affects their mental health—that’s three in four people of our workforce.

Addressing this pervasive health challenge is going to require a systemic shift to normalize the conversation and treat mental well-being on the same level as our physical well-being. That’s what the American Heart Association’s CEO Roundtable leadership collaborative of 45 CEOs are doing. As employers, we collectively support three billion people in the workplace worldwide, and what better place to meet people where they are spending most of their waking hours – at work.

mental health
Mental health disorders are widespread Image: Our World in Data

And change starts at the top. A recent report commissioned by the CEO Roundtable, Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis, illustrates the business case, offers actionable strategies, and showcases mental health programs and services among member organizations who are making this a priority for their workforce.

We also convened an expert panel to offer employers “Seven Actionable Strategies for Building a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace.” This roadmap will help employers confront the challenges highlighted in the report. These strategies include:

  • Leadership: Visibly position leaders to be proactive champions of a diverse and inclusive culture that supports a mental health-friendly workplace.
  • Organizational and Environmental Support: Develop and implement a Mental Health Plan that is easy to access and easy to digest for all employees.
  • Communications: Communicate clearly and often to employees about the organization’s mental health policies, medical benefits, programs, education resources, and training opportunities.
  • Programs and Benefits: Offer a comprehensive package of employee-centered medical benefits and programs.
  • Engagement: Involve employees in all aspects of mental health-related workplace decision-making.
  • Community Partnership: Leverage community partnerships to promote the internal and external objectives of the Mental Health Plan.
  • Reporting Outcomes: Identify evidence-based opportunities to continually improve the mental health and well-being of employees.

Access to affordable, evidence-based mental health treatments for all people is a priority. We know that there are gaps in care, including the lack of integration of mental health services into primary care.

Studies show a clear link between mental health issues and cardiovascular diseases. For example, people managing heart disease often have a higher incidence of depression. Similarly, chronic stress is known to be associated with higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, because stress affects risk factor behaviors like smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating.

Corporate America is attempting to abolish the stigma on mental health between employers and their staff through the “sharing” campaign that encourages employees to access company resources and benefits and inspires leaders to normalize the conversation and reduce stigma around mental health.

Eighty percent of individuals can be treated quickly and effectively, especially when symptoms are recognized early. Yet, 50% to 60% of adults with mental disorders do not receive the mental health services they need.

All leaders can walk the talk and support employees and their managers to inspire open dialogue, foster a supportive environment and encourage employees to access services when needed.

The American Heart Association is working for a world of longer, healthier lives committed to support both primary care and mental health providers to improve overall health and well-being. Once we commit to address the stigma, then we can build supportive cultures that makes it acceptable to talk about mental health.

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