Any organization that is seriousabout growing, managing risk and maintaining a strong, competitiveworkforce has to start getting real about mental health at theworkplace. (Image: Shutterstock)

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Every organization is only as healthy as its workforce. An estimated 322 million peopleworldwide live with depression, including 40 million Americans, andup to 56 percent do not seek treatment. Depression is the leadingcause of disability in the United States, and it is estimated thatdepression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per yearin lost productivity.

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Any organization that is serious about growing, managing riskand maintaining a strong, competitive workforce has to startgetting real about mental health at the workplace. Beyonddepressive disorders, over 26 percent of employed adults havesubstance abuse or addiction in their family, with 42 of thoseindividuals reporting that their productivity suffered as a result.Considering 16 percent of emergency room patients injured at workhave alcohol in their system, it should be no surprise thatdrug abuse and addiction cost Americancompanies upwards of $81 billion annually.

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Related: Top 10 mental health conditions employerscover

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The good news is that treatment works. In fact, according to theAmerican Psychiatric Association's Center for Workplace MentalHealth, over 80 percent of employees treated for mental illnessreport improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.Forward-thinking leaders are getting creative with new approachesto mental health at the workplace covering six key areas.

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1. Talk about the elephant in the room

Organizational leaders need to get comfortable talking about allthings mental health. Through videos, blogs, social media outreachand year-round campaigning, it is important to openly the manymyths around depression, share facts about men's mental health, andtalk about shedding the stigma of suicide, drug abuse and alcoholaddiction, PTSD, postpartum depression and other commonchallenges.

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2. Remove all barriers to help

Take stock of employee benefits and confirm if benefit providersare offering 24/7 access to services. In a time when people craveconnection, check to see if every single call, text, email, mobileapp intake, and live chat is answered by a real person, ready tolisten. If someone is brave enough to ask for help, there isnothing more discouraging than being confronted with automatedprompts, long hold times, and password stress.

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3. Promote mental wellness year-round

Most organizations fall into the trap of only promoting benefitsduring open enrollment time, but mental health awareness at theworkplace should be a year-round priority. Ask your EAP partner formonthly promotional campaigns, video marketing, and social mediaoutreach messaging, and see what additional training and managementsupport services are available on an ongoing basis.

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4. Knock down silos

Oftentimes a wide range of whole person care, wellness, mentalhealth, and stress management resources are available across EAP,health insurance, absence management and other benefit providers,but services are scattered and not integrated. Promote what isalready available through a unified mental health campaign thatconnects multiple benefits providers, using engaging video, text,social media and email marketing.

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5. Reimagine mental health communications

Mental health benefits and services available are usually foundburied deep in the pages of an employee handbook or included in atri-fold leaflet with images of extremely sad, head-downindividuals. These images reinforce negative stigmas andstereotypes: that depression means sadness all the time, that it'sa sign of weakness, and that people are desperate and sufferingalone. Reimagine mental health promotion with more nuanced,authentic and relatable imaging and messaging around mental healthissues.

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6. Get creative with mental wellness at work

A healthy work environment and culture can go a long way inpromoting mental and emotional well-being. Turn to your EAP partnerfor management consultation on policies, changes, improvements andbest practices in creating a healthier work environment. An engagedEAP partner can provide strategic consultation on ideas forflexible working arrangements, onsite perks, or environmentalchanges to improve mental wellness at the workplace.

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Awareness is always the first step to positive change. Thisgrowing demand for mental health at the workplace calls on brokersand advisors to be strategic partners in reducing the stigma andproviding real solutions. With integrated benefit partners andfrank discussion, brokers can start breaking down the many barriersto mental health at the workplace and make a real impact onemployee health and the bottom-line.


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Dr. Ann Clark is the founder and CEO ofACISpecialty Benefits, an employee assistance program and providerof work-life, concierge and student assistance program benefits andperks for customers worldwide. Named “Most Admired CEO” by SanDiego Business Journal and “Woman of the Year” finalist for SanDiego Magazine, Dr. Clark has authored numerous works includingworkplace warfare, women and recovery, and culturalcrossroads.

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