09 Nov Supporting Mental Health with Sensible Company Policies
People with mental health challenges, no matter the severity, can thrive in the workplace and be valuable team members. Allies play an important role by helping to provide the empathy and compassion they need to overcome key challenges. Our collective will, empathy, and compassion can break down the formidable barriers of stigma. Acknowledging and recognizing the need for mental health in the workplace can help you arm yourself in advance to support the people in your life and contribute to creating a supportive workplace. Workplace mental health initiatives can and do help. In the end, what matters most is bringing our shared humanity into the workplace. But how can your organization place policies that can support mental health through its core procedures?
Deploy a supportive mental health policy
Implementing and maintaining a strong policy against stigma and promoting mental health creates a supportive work environment and culture. Provide all employees with a clear overview of the mental health benefits your company offers. Communicate that any stigma associated with mental health will be treated in the same manner as other forms of discrimination, and encourage managers and employees to speak up against it. Also encourage employees to confront colleagues that espouse any and all stigma, whether or not intentional, and report such conduct to supervisors. Your company’s mental health policy can include a transparent company commitment to best practices for addressing mental health issues. Employees should have clearly identified and available resources to report concerns and an uncomplicated complaint or feedback process that provides anonymity. If you’re in management, you can create a mental health director position to develop, implement, and enforce your company’s mental health policy. A workplace mental health committee comprising a diverse group of stakeholders, especially employees living with mental illness, can help shape, implement, and maintain this policy.
Offer office accommodations
Allies and leaders should lobby for and support office accommodations that can benefit all employees by helping prevent mental health challenges and mitigating workplace stressors that can worsen mental health. Some easy and low-cost examples of accommodations from the American Disabilities Act include offering late starts (many psychiatric medications can be sedating), breaks to attend medical appointments, flextime, quiet workspaces, office psychiatric service dogs (or emotional support animals), remote work, and part-time work. Encourage all employees to discuss accommodations for their team and suggestions for how best to incorporate them. Managers should consider offering these accommodations proactively to employees in need. Assure employees that they will not experience repercussions if they ask for accommodations and that if they disclose a mental illness, it will be kept strictly confidential. Telling an employee that an illness will be “kept off the record” can be comforting. Employees with mental illnesses are entitled to reasonable accommodations under the law, but to benefit they must disclose their condition. Managers should keep in mind that many think the risks of disclosure far exceed the benefits.
Increase access to care
Offer access to good mental health care benefits, including a comprehensive package that accords physical and mental health parity. It should include coverage for a wide range of mental health services and medications. Offer generous short-term and long-term medical leave policies with clearly stipulated durations and possibilities for extensions. Leave policy should not require disclosure of specific conditions. Another beneficial measure is on-call therapy assistance (as mental health crises often occur outside the workplace). General wellness programs should also be available to all employees to ensure a positive impact on mental health. Ensure that employees are aware of these benefits through information sessions and company communication channels.
Meanwhile, anonymous online peer-to-peer support communities that preserve confidentiality can be helpful. Many companies use mental health apps to support employees, but their effectiveness may be questionable. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), many apps lack evidence of their effectiveness; in addition, they may not be secure, lack adequate privacy controls, or may sell user data without appropriate disclosure or authorization. The APA has developed an evaluation model to assess associated risks and rate mental health apps. Employers should carefully evaluate mental health apps for these risks and their potential effectiveness before promoting them to employees. People with mental health challenges, no matter the severity, can thrive in the workplace and be valuable team members. Allies play an important role by helping to provide the empathy and compassion they need to overcome key challenges.