Throughout the year, we have numerous opportunities to improve the culture around mental health with our members. From Mental Health Month in May to Suicide Prevention Week in September, the companies we work with ask for resources to help educate their employees on a variety of mental health issues, and where they can seek help if it’s needed.
While the level of interest and support during these times is encouraging, there is so much more we can – and should – do to make positive mental health routine in the workplace. When the workplace culture is open and inclusive of mental health, the entire organization and its outcomes improve. But when stigma persists, it’s not just a colleague who doesn’t receive the help he or she needs; instead, the whole organization can feel the affect.
For example, mental illness and substance use disorders annually cost employers $80 – $100 billion in indirect costs, and workers with substance use disorders (SUD) miss nearly 50 percent more workdays than their peers. Therefore, we strongly encourage companies to create a culture that views health holistically, inclusive of mental health, and is an accepting environment where employees feel empowered to be themselves and open to addressing potential issues.
Each of us can contribute by ensuring we are reducing the stigmas associated with mental health and addiction by being more open and honest in the workplace. In addition, leaders and managers have an opportunity to make a difference by fostering a supportive work environment that emphasizes the mental health of their teams and employees.
Where do you begin? Aetna is a founding member of the Campaign to Change Direction. Together, we encourage organizations to practice the five habits of emotional well-being and utilize them in the office.
- First, make sure to take care of yourself, with healthy eating, sleeping and staying active. Make sure to encourage your colleagues to take care of themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask how you can help, or let others know that you need help.
- Check in with a doctor, a counselor, or even family and friends to make sure you are doing well emotionally. If you are a manager, make sure your employees have someone to check in with. And if you are comfortable, make yourself available to them as that person.
- Third, engage with others, and make sure to stay connected to your friends, family and colleagues. Managers should be open about their connections and encourage employees to do the same.
- Find ways to relax, whether that’s gardening, dancing or cooking. Be open about your activities and ask your colleagues how they choose to relax. And don’t forget to encourage employees to unplug when not in the office.
- Finally, it’s important to know the signs of emotional suffering, so if you see them in a colleague, you can reach out and offer support. This is especially important for managers, so you can help your colleagues. You should also understand how your employees would prefer to receive support, if necessary.
For companies that are interested in learning more, such as teaching employees how to support colleagues who may be experiencing mental health problems, we encourage Mental Health First Aid trainings. Aetna created a version specific for the workplace in partnership with the National Council for Behavioral Health.
Let’s begin to make positive mental health a part of company culture. It can make a real difference.
Interested in learning more about how to help employees feel their best? Aetna is leading the way with personalized, holistic support, inclusive of mental and emotional health. Click here to learn more about additional health initiatives in the Seattle-area.
Aetna, a CVS Health company, serves an estimated 38 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services. For more information, explore how Aetna is helping to build a healthier world.
Cara McNulty, DPA is president of Aetna Behavioral Health, a provider of mental health and employee assistance program (EAP) solutions. She oversees a national team that spearheads the development of programs, products and capabilities designed to offer individuals easy access to quality, innovative treatments and meet people along their health care journey.