mental health workplace wellness

Study Reviews Role Workplace Wellness Plays in Addressing Employee Mental Health

Last week we reported how a mental health focus can help a company’s bottom line. As Kate V. Fitch of the Colorado Mental Wellness Network wrote in the Denver Business Journal: “Leaving the mental health needs of a workplace unaddressed drives up costs. Failure to promote mental wellness, identify and intervene with employees who are struggling, and encourage early treatment worsens long-term health outcomes and worker morale while increasing absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover.”

An extremely helpful study in BMC Psychiatry takes a deeper look at the issue — and the role that a well-run workplace wellness program can play in addressing employee mental health: “The majority of people experiencing mental-health problems do not seek help, and the stigma of mental illness is considered a major barrier to seeking appropriate treatment. More targeted interventions (e.g. at the workplace) seem to be a promising and necessary supplement to public campaigns, but little is known about their effectiveness. The aim of this systematic review is to provide an overview of the evidence on the effectiveness of interventions targeting the stigma of mental illness at the workplace.”

The report is titled “The effectiveness of interventions targeting the stigma of mental illness at the workplace: a systematic review.” The authors reviewed 16 studies and note: “The results indicate that anti-stigma interventions at the workplace can lead to improved employee knowledge and supportive behavior towards people with mental-health problems. The effects of interventions on employees’ attitudes were mixed, but generally positive.”

Indeed, the authors note that “the stigma of mental illness has a negative impact on the utilization of healthcare services at work and results in employees waiting until their symptoms severely interfere with their daily functioning instead of seeking support early. Stigma not only poses a barrier to mental-health treatment after the onset of illness, but also interferes with prevention efforts during early stages of the illness.”

Their conclusion: “Our review shows that workplace anti-stigma interventions can be particularly effective in changing employees’ knowledge of mental disorders, as well as helping behavior, while results related to attitudinal change were mixed, but positive overall.”

An additional important note — and part of the value a well-run workplace wellness program could deliver — is that some employees with mental health concerns may not access services for which employers already pay.

The authors note: “Emerging evidence indicates that stigma towards mental illness, in part, contributes to the underutilization of costly mental-health services (e.g. EAP, workplace counseling) that are already offered by organizations. It is, therefore, important to address and remove stigma as a barrier to increase the effectiveness and ‘value-for-money’ of these interventions.”