New Answer for Mental Illness in the Workplace

In my professional career I’ve unfortunately had to deal with a suicide, attempted suicide, several major heart attacks and strokes of C-level executives. The level of stress business owners and CEOs deal with can have serious repercussions on not only the financial welfare of their businesses, but their health as well.

I’ve worked with companies where the CEOs were suffering from depression and unable to make the best decisions on the direction of the company, even to the point their businesses failed completely. I’ve been in negotiations for the sale of a company where a bipolar owner refused to sign the papers for a deal he had agreed to, only to change his mind and ask me later why we didn’t do the deal.

The mental health of CEOs and employees at all levels is a serious business, and one I need to be cognizant of at all times. It should be a concern for anyone running a business, as untreated mental illness costs companies $44 billion a year in lost workplace productivity, according to the University of Michigan Depression Center and reported in an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Tackling Worker’s Mental Health, One Text at a Time.”

It’s not just that people are missing days of work, with people suffering from depression costing the company 27 days of work a year. They are also less productive when they are at the office.

Some companies have instituted Employee Assistance Programs to help workers who may be suffering from anxiety, depression or some other form of a mental condition. These programs usually involve giving workers free counseling sessions on the phone. But some people are still reluctant to pick up the phone.

They may perceive a stigma to seeking treatment and worry about losing their jobs.  Managers are not sure what to do to help them, according to the article “Mental Problems in the Workplace” on the Harvard Health Publications website.

According to Kent Bradley, former chief medical officer at Safeway as reported in the article “Overcoming Stigma Around Mental Health Services, “71 percent of U.S. adults with depression won’t contact a mental health professional. They figure that they’ve got to work it out themselves.” He points out barriers that include not being aware of their condition, not being open to learning more about it or seeking care for it, the cost of counseling and medications, and difficulty with access to the right health care provider.

So some businesses are seeking to provide help through access to apps that help with their employees’ mental health. Rather than pick up a phone and call for a counseling session, employees can text or video chat with a therapist who can also connect them with a health coach, reports the article.

The app Ginger.io offers “personalized care for stress, anxiety and depression from a team of experts.” Users download the app and are assigned a health care coach, who coordinates their care with a team of specialists and checks in on them if they haven’t heard from the user in a few days. The user can schedule a video chat with a therapist, share information about medication needs with their physician and continue to personalize the plan until they find the right care for them.

Addepar, a financial services tech firm purchased access to the new app for its 200 employees. So far, 50 people have signed onto it.

Sprint has tried another app from Castlight Health for its 42,000 employees and dependents. Once a user downloads the app and enters health information, the app can identify who might need help by reviewing the employees’ medications and health claims and directs them to help.

Let’s say something about an employee indicates they may be suffering from anxiety. They may get a message asking if they are feeling overwhelmed and suggesting they take a questionnaire to determine if treatment is indicated.

Sprint invested a bunch of money in the app – $2.1 million. But the hope is that in addition to helping its employees, the company actually saves money on what it spends on behavioral health treatments.

However you choose to handle it, it makes sense for your company to have some policies in place to address employees who may need treatment for mental health issues.

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