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HealthConnections - Mental Health in the Workplace


On this week’s episode of HealthConnection, Dr. Carole Myers, a professor emeritus in the University of Tennessee College of Nursing, talks with Dr. Terri Lyon, a psychologist doctorally prepared in industrial and organizational psychology, about why mental health matters and what employers can do to help employees and their businesses thrive.

WUOT’s Carole Myers: Mental health in the workplace is a major concern for employees, their families and employers. Please describe mental health challenges seen in the workplace. What are employees and employers facing?

Terri Lyon: Well, mental illness is widespread and, unfortunately, it is getting worse. Since the pandemic, local rates of depression and anxiety have increased 25% and in the U.S. mental health disorders impact one in five people and for employees it’s two in five people. Even employees without a diagnosis are struggling. 85% report issues with workplace stress impacting their work. So, as a result employers are facing lower productivity and raising costs. Employees are experiencing mental health problems because they struggle to focus as they try to do their work through those symptoms, it is hard to stay on task or stay motivated and they often don’t feel comfortable getting treatment and if they do get treatment they sometimes don’t disclose their diagnosis for fear of discrimination in the workplace.

What are employees and employers facing? What are the daily challenges?

The employers are facing immense costs, over a hundred dollars annually. Those issues with poor performance and absenteeism are some of the things that decrease productivity on the job. Absenteeism is the one thing that impacts payroll more than any other reason that people call out for work. For example, people with depression have 26 more absences on average than other employees. But even when employees who are struggling with mental health are physically present, they are experiencing a lot of impact on their productivity as well. 90% of workers say that their diagnosis impacts them on the job. That issue costs three to four times more than absenteeism. In addition to productivity costs, insurance expenses are almost twice as much for someone with a diagnosis compared to other employees.

So, Dr. Lyon, how can employers protect their employees as well as their businesses?

Investing in a caring culture. The World Health Organization reported that every dollar invested in mental health treatment pays back four dollars in productivity. So, investing in a caring culture that prioritizes well-being and eliminates stigma is good for the bottom line for organizations. One strategy to create a caring culture is to get to the point where you have comprehensive and affordable healthcare coverage that covers mental and physical health. Other tools are employee assistance programs, access to wellness screening tools and allowing mental health days that you can use or you can use to help a member of your family as well. Another strategy is prioritizing work-life balance by offering flexible schedules, remote work options and stress management programs. Finally, training all employees on a stigma-free environment and how to reach that and for supervisors, training them to recognize when an employee is struggling and to intervene and to get them the resources they need at that point.

This transcript has been lightly edited for content.


From Mental Health America's "Mental Health America's Workplace Mental Health Toolkit: Creating a Culture of Support & Wellbeing" This toolkit is available at: https://www.mhanational.org/workplace/toolkit/download

From The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): "The 2024 NAMI Workplace Mental Health Poll": https://www.nami.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/INFO-NAMI-STIGMAFREE.pdf

Greg joined WUOT in 2007, first as operations director and now as assistant director/director of programming. His duties range from analyzing audience data to helping clear WUOT’s satellite dish of snow and ice. Greg started in public radio in 2000 in Shreveport, La., at Red River Radio and was, prior to coming WUOT, at WYSO in Dayton, Ohio, where he also was director of programming and operations.