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Employer Assistance & Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN): A service of the The Viscardi Center
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May 31st, 2013 by

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By Clare Miller

Director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Foundation.


Mental health conditions are sometimes referred to as “hidden” illnesses because they aren’t immediately apparent in the way, for instance, a broken arm or a physical condition can be. People with these non-apparent mental illnesses sometimes aim to keep it that way, hiding it from others, even friends, coworkers, and neighbors. As a society, we’ve made great strides in understanding that mental illnesses are real and can be effectively treated, but we have a long road ahead in the path toward acceptance, public support; and overcoming stigma in the workplace.

A side view of an iceberg, the majority of the iceberg is below the surface

What’s confounding about mental illness is the stigma that exists despite its high prevalence: one in four people will experience a mental illness in any given year. As such, everyone is affected by mental illnesses. If we haven’t personally been affected, it’s in our families, friends, workplaces, churches, neighborhoods, sports team and communities.

If you look only at healthcare claims, behavioral health can be a small percentage of an employer’s healthcare costs. But the impact to the bottom line is huge when you add up all the indirect costs such as absenteeism and lost productivity. Many employers are beginning to understand that they can’t afford to ignore mental health. That’s the key message delivered to employers through the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Foundation.

I use the analogy of the iceberg, with the part visible above the water representing behavioral health claims, and the huge part below the surface representing all those indirect costs.

This isn’t chump change: Mental illness and substance use disorders cost employers an estimated $80 to $100 billion annually in indirect costs alone. Mental illness causes more days of work loss and work impairment than arthritis, asthma, back pain, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Research documents that treatment improves work performance and productivity. Treatment for depression, for example, results in a 40-60% reduction in absenteeism and presenteeism (when employees come to work but aren’t productive.)

A bear wearing a necktie, with a sign that says "Right Direction"

More and more companies are stepping up and leading by example. Our quarterly magazine, Mental Health Works, features how these and other leading companies are approaching prevention, employee education, behavioral health benefits, and disability management to improve mental health. Much like the Employer Assistance and Resource Network, the Partnership focuses on practical approaches that employers are taking to invest in employees.

One of the employers you can read about is the Chesapeake Energy Corporation. A natural gas and mining company headquartered in Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy Corporation enhanced mental health benefits, offered supportive education, and added early identification and referral components to their programs. Chesapeake launched a major communications campaign called “Your Life Matters” and regularly reaches out to the primary care physician community to improve quality of care.

Giving Employers Educational Tools

The Partnership helps employers address mental health by giving them tools and resources to take action. We’re proud to collaborate with Employers Health, a national healthcare coalition based in Ohio, to develop a first-of-its-kind educational initiative for the workplace to help decrease stigma associated with depression, which is a leading cause of lost productivity. The initiative, called Right Direction, is designed to help motivate employees and their families to seek help when needed, and to provide employers with appropriate support, tools and resources.

The Right Direction websiteserves as the employee portal, offering educational information on common symptoms of workplace depression, a depression screening tool, resources for how to discuss this with family, how to talk with employers about job accommodations and additional resources outside the workplace to access help.

Information about depression in the workplace, and resources needed to combat this growing area of concern, can be found here. Employers can request a free employer toolkit, called a Field Guide, with all of the materials they need to implement an awareness"Right Direction" educational booklets and materials program. Each Field Guide includes a step-by-step implementation plan, approach to sharing the business case with the C-suite, educational presentations, as well as corresponding promotional resources, such as posters, intranet copy and template materials which can be developed into TV slides. Kits are available for download.

We invite you to join us and take a step in the right direction to support employees in an effort to better overall health and productivity. Consider subscribing to our mailing list to stay on top of what employers are doing to improve mental health!

Right Direction is an effort from the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Foundation and Employers Health Coalition, Inc., and is supported by Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc. (TPUSA) and Lundbeck U.S.

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