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The pandemic exacerbated mental health issues for many Americans and shined a light on the impact they are having in the workplace. Nearly half of employees say their work suffers because of poor mental health, according to the People at Work survey from ADP. The problem is compounded by a lingering stigma around mental illness and insufficient access to timely treatment.

The U.S. Department of Labor is responding by launching its Mental Health at Work Initiative as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. A new webpage promotes tools and resources to reduce stigma and increase awareness of mental health and wellbeing within workplaces; promote best practices and compliance by employers; and encourage mental health equity and access. Two related aspects of mental health in the workplace are critical to this initiative:

  • First is a focus on creating positive work environments, where worker needs are met. High-quality jobs that provide safe workplaces, fair pay, paid leave, benefits and opportunities for all team members to be heard form a baseline for employee mental health.
  • Second is supporting employees and colleagues who require care for a mental health condition or substance use disorder. Treating mental health care the same as other medical conditions, in accordance with mental health parity laws, helps create a culture where the spirit of supporting the health needs of all workers can flourish. Equity must be woven into such efforts, including how mental health and substance use disorders are handled in the workplace and in understanding how lived experiences can affect the mental health needs and treatment of different groups.

Related: Workplace mental health: 5 ways to support employee wellness, boost retention

Employment is recognized as a key social determinant of health. Job quality is an important factor in a person's mental health and ability to access treatment for mental health conditions. Although workplace stress and poor job quality can negatively affect workers' mental health, workplaces also can provide important connections to resources, support, accommodations and benefits designed to improve mental health and facilitate equitable access to treatment.

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