When workers are struggling to manage their mental health, they often do not ask for help from their employer or seek outside services. Instead, they try to push through it, but this can make their symptoms worse. Without resources to support worker wellbeing, employers may face the financial consequences of a burnt-out workforce: absenteeism, loss of productivity, and higher health insurance costs. This article will review three reasons why employees don’t seek mental health support, and what HR managers can do encourage workers to reach out when needed.
Some workers worry that if they disclose their struggles to their employer, there is a risk that the information will not be kept confidential. While most states have laws to protect the workers’ privacy, it is still possible that someone might share the information accidentally. Also, while many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) as an alternative, usage rates are low because of privacy concerns. HIPPA does not cover all EAPs, so workers may be concerned that what they disclose to an EAP will get back to their employer. Workers with mental health challenges are at increased risk of workplace harassment and bullying, so maintaining privacy is key to ensuring workplace safety.
There are many challenges to accessing mental health services that are outside of the employer’s control: a severe shortage of mental health professionals, insufficient federal and state funding for programs, and increasing demand for services during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the most common reason people do not seek mental health services is that their health insurance does not cover them. Mental and behavioral health care services are expensive; an hour-long therapy session can cost anywhere between $65 to $250. Add in costs like medications, in-patient, and outpatient care, and insufficient health insurance makes reaching out for help financially unattainable for many workers.
Talking about mental health in the workplace is not as taboo as it used to be. Media outlets like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe recently published articles highlighting the importance of mental health in the workplace and common challenges for employers. However, even with this shift, employees still worry about the stigma associated with mental illness. Employees may be concerned that disclosure will compromise their work relationships or even put their job at risk. Workers may also be worried about being perceived as unproductive, lazy, or weak. Finally, workers may not reach out for help because of their internalized stigma against mental illness. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed that they cannot control what is happening to them, so they do not reach out for support.
Tips for HR – Why employees don’t seek mental health support
Empower your employees at the individual level
The CDC recommends that employers make self-assessment tools available to their employees. The WorkforceMHQ from Sapien Labs is a unique assessment tool that empowers staff to take action to improve their overall wellbeing. Once employees fill out the 15-minute assessment, they receive an individualized report that includes an overall wellbeing score and detailed information about where they fall along a list of six aspects of wellbeing: core cognition, complex cognition, mood and outlook, drive and motivation, the social self, and mind-body, together with recommendations for action.
Employers also benefit from using the WorkforceMHQ. The aggregate data from their employees shows a snapshot of employee mental wellbeing and the factors that are influencing wellbeing scores. HR managers and others can use this information to make internal policy decisions, implement wellness programs, and evaluate the success of those programs. All assessment responses are anonymized, so employers will never have access to any worker’s individual data.
Create a workplace culture that openly discusses and addresses mental health
In addition to bolstering mental health coverage for employees, HR managers can change the office culture to reduce the stigma about mental health issues and signal their support for employees that may be struggling.
- Encourage managers and leadership to share their experiences with mental health to reduce the stigma
- Create affinity/support groups as a way for workers to share among colleagues who may be facing similar challenges. (Consult with an attorney to protect employee privacy.)
- Inform employees about the mental health supports that are available to them through their health insurance and workplace programs
- Hire a “mental health leader” to oversee mental health programs, monitor workers’ wellbeing, and analyzing mental health services covered by the employer’s insurance
- Expand mental health benefits
For more information about the WorkforceMHQ, click here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org