Taking Away the Barriers in the Workforce to Improved Mental Health

Mental illness is a growing problem in this country and treatment options are sparse. Fortunately, as an employer, you can take steps to make it easier for your employees to seek help. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five American adults has suffered from mental illness at some time.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, serious mental illness can lead to chronic medical conditions and costs the United States $193.2 billion annually in lost earnings. The alliance also estimates that adults living with serious mental illness on average die 25 years earlier than others, even when many of the conditions are treatable.

In addition, those who don’t seek treatment often choose to self-medicate, using alcohol or drugs. Poor mental health also can lead to poor productivity; low employee morale; and legal risks to the company when an employee can no longer cope. Even if you offer your employees access to a group health plan, that doesn’t mean the treatment of depression, emotional issues or relationship problems will be addressed with counseling or medications.

As an employer, you have the ability to offer services and to send a message that it’s OK to seek treatment. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure your employees have options to safeguard or increase their mental health.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to help people with mental health conditions do their jobs. The ADAAA does not list which conditions must be given accommodations, but instead gives a general definition of who should receive accommodations.

The accommodations are necessary because someone with a mental health condition might not be able to focus, process information, think clearly, remember details, organize thoughts or stop and start an action. Accommodations can range from supplying headphones to block out distracting noises to adjusting a work schedule. Sometimes an employee can feel less stressed if they are allowed to bring their service animal to work.

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