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Workplace Strategies for Mental Health

By Julia M. Passwater, J.D. | Jul 30, 2019

As a union trustee, you probably don't have the opportunity to interact with your members on a daily basis. This is why devising workplace strategies for mental health is so crucial to ensuring your members' well-being.

How Mental Health Issues Affect Members

In 2016, nearly 1 in 5 adults struggled with mental illness, and 35 million of those adults received mental health treatment, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, out of those adults with depression, about 80% reported experiencing "some difficulty with work, home or social activities" as a result of their symptoms.

The struggle workers with unaddressed mental health issues face in the workplace is real. The global economy lost $1 trillion annually in productivity due to depression and anxiety, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO also estimates that there is a $4 return on investment for every $1 spent on treatment for common mental disorders. By addressing issues early, plan trustees can help ensure that mental health challenges don't progress further or require more expensive treatment.

Industries such as construction, entertainment, trucking and oil and gas face unsteady employment issues, unsafe working conditions and unique mental health challenges, such as depression from loneliness and economic uncertainty.

How to Support Members' Mental Health

According to Forbes, organizational leaders can support workers' mental health by increasing awareness, offering training to managers, encouraging healthy work-life balance, developing mental health policies, treating people fairly, providing screening resources and monitoring engagement. One way to bring these goals together is through telemedicine offerings.

Telemedicine, or online care, has the added benefit of reducing anxiety about missing work or explaining an absence. LiveHealth Online, for example, provides quick digital access to board-certified psychiatrists who can provide treatment for mental health concerns.

Along with offering members online or in-person care, look for ways to accommodate and reduce stress for members who may be suffering from common mental health disorders. These can include:

  •  Opening up a way to communicate concerns about work-life balance.
  •  Making available mental health or stress management courses.
  •  Introducing education programs that address common stressors, such as debt management.
  •  Encouraging physical activity.
  •  Helping members navigate prescription drug offerings to better manage their mental health treatment programs.

Once the decision has been made to provide expanded mental health services, develop a communication plan to ensure members understand what has been made available to them. It's important for the board to talk regularly with members about mental health, not only to build trust and confidence in the board but also to remove the stigma those seeking or considering mental health treatment might feel.

Increase your members' use of mental health benefits by providing them with confidential online screening tools to help them better understand risk factors and treatment needs for various types of psychiatric concerns. Train stewards to identify signs of mental health concerns and respond to them appropriately, too.

While union leaders and shop stewards should promote and encourage members to use the mental health resources available as part of their health plan offerings, they should also be careful not to diagnose members or force them to seek treatment. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is illegal for labor unions to treat members differently or require them to seek treatment just because they are suspected to have a mental illness. Stewards who suspect that a member poses a direct threat to the health and safety of work sites should notify their union's legal team for additional guidance on how to proceed with the issue.

By using workplace strategies for engaging members in mental health help, plan trustees help ensure that any issues are addressed early, making for happier, healthier members — and lower overall plan costs.

Julia Passwater is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Passwater earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Indiana University Bloomington, and she earned a Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. After earning her law degree, Passwater spent over a decade enforcing federal employment laws for the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Today, Passwater writes about topics such as politics, government, employment law and work in the 21st century.