Workplace Wellness

What are the Greatest Barriers to Mental Health and How Employers Can Help

Written by Nataly

As with other forms of wellness, mental health takes deliberate and consistent effort to maintain. In a hectic world that sometimes demands more from us than we are able to give, this is easier said than done.

Unlike a broken bone, it is not obvious when a mental ailment is settling in. For working adults, where our responsibilities can far outpace the resources at our disposal, we may find ourselves buried under so many paralyzing layers of stress from different facets of life that we forget to ask for help. If you’ve ever experienced a day (or many) like this, then you are not alone.

Indeed, mental health challenges are some of the most serious population health issues facing the world today. In 2021, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated that more than one in five (or 58 million) American adults live with a mental illness. Actual numbers may be higher because most individuals who have a mental illness do not seek or receive treatment. Many people still believe that mental health conditions are rare and only “happen to someone else.” 

In this article:

How is Mental Health Defined? 

In a nutshell, mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Some of the most common examples of mental health challenges include depression, anxiety, and even burnout. Mental health can be monitored through our thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors. Just like physical health, it’s important to look after our mental health to ensure our overall well-being. However, it is not always easy to figure out where to start.

stress at work

What are the Greatest Barriers to Mental Wellness Today? 

Despite how integral mental health is to our overall well-being, many hurdles stand in the way of access to mental healthcare. On top of that, there is no universal source of information, authority, and guidance on how to maintain good mental health. In spite of growing awareness in recent years, some of the greatest barriers to mental health that still persist include: 

1. Social stigma and misinformation

A significant roadblock for people who need mental health treatment is the perception that seeking it makes them “weak” or that there is something wrong with them. Taking proactive steps toward a better life should never come with feelings of fear, shame, and judgment perpetuated by misinformation. After all, we don’t make fun of people who visit their doctors to treat a broken arm. Reducing the stigma surrounding mental health would empower more people to seek help earlier, before conditions turn into emergencies.

2. Limited awareness about mental health

Even when stigma is not an issue, it is not always clear what signs to look for in determining whether mental health care is needed, or where to look for it. Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of resources available online to address these questions. Below is a sample of great organizations to follow: 

3. Access to a reliable supply of quality care

Even when individuals overcome mental health stigma and actively seek help, the process of finding good quality care that matches their needs can be very burdensome. This can feel especially disheartening when you are in a vulnerable state and need support. 

4. Affordability of quality care

Even after overcoming stigma and managing to find a mental health provider with experience that matches an individual’s need, they may be priced out of following the course of treatment that will actually help them. Mental health is a long-term commitment, and the average American worker is not able to afford the out-of-pocket cost of $100 to $200 per therapy session (or $400 to $800 per month) on an ongoing basis.

mental health affordability

Why Should Employers Care About Employee Mental Health?

More companies are realizing that mental health is not only an employee issue. How employees feel directly impacts their performance. When left unaddressed, mental health issues can have significant impacts on organizations.

They can manifest at work in a variety of ways, ranging from decreased productivity at the individual level to more elusive behaviors that erode trust and collaboration on a larger scale. The World Health Organization estimates that each year, 12 billion working days are lost to depression and anxiety, costing companies $1 trillion in lost productivity.

What Can Employers Do To Support Employee Mental Health?

To no one’s surprise, working adults spend most of their waking hours at work. For this reason, the work environment can make a profound impact on individuals’ mental health.

According to SHRM’s Mental Health in America: A 2022 Workplace Report, the vast majority (94%) of HR professionals believe that employers can help improve workplace mental health through the provision of benefits. Here are some examples of what employers can do to promote better mental wellness among their employees:

1. Encourage open communication in the workplace

Effective communication is at the foundation of any well-functioning system and thriving workplace culture. In theory, it is something that most people want and many strive for. In practice, however, communication can be blocked when there is a sense that communicating will be met with indifference, or worse, with negative consequences.

Organizations can help reduce these blockers by establishing policies and processes that support open communication, as well as training for their teams on topics such as emotional intelligence, unconscious bias, listening skills, and inclusion.

open team communication

2. Raise awareness about mental health

As established organizations, employers who participate in raising mental health awareness can play a powerful role in normalizing discussions about it. This helps reduce stigma and encourages people to think and ask questions about the topic, which are the first steps to resolving any issues.

3. Establish a holistic wellness program

Most companies now offer wellness programs, but the nature of these programs can be just as diverse as the companies themselves. Alongside physical wellness components, strong mental wellness initiatives not only promote awareness, but also provide proactive, structured paths that support employees on their mental health journeys.

In addition to motivation and educational resources, the social components of wellness programs, such as wellness challenges, can also improve mental health at work by promoting camaraderie and increasing feelings of belonging.

4. Mitigate work-related stress

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, over a quarter of adults experience so much stress that they can’t function. Whether their stressors stem from within or outside of work organizations (or a combination of both), employers can help make a difference.

To start, holding regular discussions about workload, skills alignment, and how the employee’s work fits within the organization (or how it helps further the company’s objectives), can really help. According to Gallup, a company can see “a 29% increase in quality and a 51% reduction in absenteeism” when employees see how the purpose of their company makes their job important.

5. Offer flexible work hours

More than 50% of managers and employees feel burned out. Even after pandemic conditions have stabilized, workers at all levels are still grappling with escalating demands and dwindling resources.

Amid spiking burnout, offering employees flexibility would enhance company culture and productivity. By giving employees more control over their work schedule, employers can substantially help employees better manage mounting responsibilities and stressful events in their lives. In fact, 79% of workers believe that a flexible schedule allows for a better work-life balance and helps reduce stress.

6. Offer financial benefits and incentives

Given that cost is one of the greatest barriers to mental wellness, financial incentives and benefits that support mental health can be very beneficial for organizations and their employees alike. Whether these benefits take shape as a lifestyle reimbursement program, employee assistance program (EAP), insurance coverage, health savings account (HSA), or a combination of the above, offering financial and administrative support to employees in their pursuit of mental health is a strong way to show that a company invests and cares about its employees.

Closing Thoughts

Good mental health is an integral part of our overall well-being. Yet, populations still face many barriers in obtaining good quality care that addresses their needs. Given that working adults spend most of their time at work, their employers can play influential roles in promoting their mental well-being in ways that bring significant long-term benefits to all parties. After all, people who feel better work better.

Do you want to learn more about how to promote mental health in your company and reap the benefits of increased productivity? Feel free to schedule a call with one of our Benefits Specialists. We’re here to help!

Corporate Wellness Benefit Managers having a discussion while looking at an electronic tablet.

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