Commentary: Workplaces have role in employees’ mental health

Employers need to create a stigma-free workplace and commit to policies that promote well-being.

By Cecily Hall / For The Herald

If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that you can’t compartmentalize your life. Trying to put on a brave face at work when you’re experiencing mental health issues only exacerbates feelings of shame and increases the stigma around mental health.

About 1 in 5 Americans struggle with mental health issues, however, more than half do not receive treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 8 in ten workers say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment for a mental health condition.

We need to be talking more openly about mental health, particularly in the workplace. It is OK not to be OK, and employers must take accountability for breaking the stigma. This is one of the reasons why Premera has joined NAMI’s Stigma Free Company campaign. We recognize our responsibility in prioritizing all aspects of our employees’ health and wellbeing, both physical and mental. We are dedicated to ensuring a safe environment to talk about issues.

Creating benefits and policies around mental health and wellbeing cannot be a one-size-fits all approach. Mental health is firmly a diversity, equity and inclusion issue. A 2021 study from Mind Share Partners, a leading nonprofit, found that Black and Latinx respondents reported experiencing more symptoms of mental disorders than their white counterparts, and were more likely to have left a job for mental health reasons. We must recognize the generational trauma and disproportionate impact of mental health issues on employees from historically marginalized communities.

Declaring a stigma-free work environment is just the first step. Employers must also create the infrastructure to reinforce this commitment, along with ongoing leadership training for executives and managers. This means:

• Hosting open discussions during team meetings, all-employee company meetings and one-on-one discussions.

• Creating a supportive environment for open and vulnerable moments, where leaders can share their own stories and challenges.

• Hosting mental health experts, particularly people from underrepresented communities, to provide workshop experiences.

• Providing benefits that support mental health, including virtual care access, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), mindfulness resources, mental health counseling services and access to apps focused on improving mental health.

• Incorporating mental health into companies’ diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.

Encouraging employees to take days off for their mental health needs, just as they would to care for their physical health.

Mental health is a vital component to our overall well-being. It’s important we recognize and support this in the workplace. Employers must be proactive and create a culture of acceptance and belonging. Premera invites all employers to join us in our quest to become stigma free.

Cecily Hall is executive vice president for employee experience at Premera Blue Cross.

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