How Employers Can Save Lives By Decreasing Workplace Stigma

And Why It's More Important Than Ever

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott recently made headlines when he shared his feelings of anxiety and depression amid the COVID-19 pandemic and following the death of his older brother by suicide in April. Despite Prescott’s fame and fanbase, he was still publicly criticized for giving voice to his struggle with mental health.

Conversations like the one started by Dak Prescott continue to place mental health issues front and center in the public eye. Prescott’s experience with depression following his brother’s suicide is sadly likely to be shared by others during the next year: a recent study estimates a substantial increase in suicide deaths due to increased financial stress and other difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prescott’s experience is an example of the stigma still associated with seeking help for mental and behavioral health needs. Employers – who are impacted by unaddressed mental health issues through absenteeism, lost productivity, and loss of talent – have a vested interest in supporting mental health initiatives in the workplace. What are the primary roadblocks to the success of these initiatives, and how can employers overcome them?

In a recent Emvitals survey, employers said that decreasing stigma was the most challenging issue in supporting mental and emotional health across their organization, followed by increasing awareness, addressing cost, and increasing access. The majority of employers surveyed – nearly half – responded that all of these factors are challenges.

Supporting emotional health at work is a multi-faceted problem that requires a holistic solution – one that works to remove stigma and promotes awareness and access to support. However, even in workplaces where support is available, employers say that another challenge is getting employees to use available resources like employee assistance programs and telemedicine. Secondary to this challenge is identifying and engaging employees early on in their behavioral and mental health journey.

How can employers most effectively support and strengthen mental and emotional health?

  • Lead by example. Develop and promote an organization-wide understanding that it is safe to discuss mental health. Employers can do this by choosing to share their own experiences seeking support or by offering presentations or other education around mental health issues.
  • Policies and support. Develop a broad mental health plan that aligns organizational goals to promote employee mental health and hold managers accountable for maintaining a mental health-friendly workplace.
  • Benefit design. Reduce barriers to accessing mental health care early and insist on outcome-based measurements.
  • Awareness. Educate, communicate, and normalize the full spectrum of emotional health needs to the whole organization so that employees are well aware of the range of resources available and how to access them.

By working to remove stigma and expand access to mental health services, employers can offer better care and support to employees – and develop a healthier organization overall – when they proactively prepare for these realities.

On Tuesday, September 22, Emvitals CEO Jennifer Hunter will participate in an interactive panel, “Workplace Mental Health: The Path Forward” as part of the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health’s Healthcare and Benefits Symposium. The panel will discuss how employers are removing the stigma around addressing mental/behavioral health in the workplace, how leaders can work to strengthen mental health initiatives, employer well-being strategies, and the adoption of a collaborative care approach with the integration of mental health. Learn more and register here.