Clients don’t feel equipped to support mental health conditions

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New research is highlighting the struggles employers say they’re facing when trying to support employees with mental health and substance abuse issues, and the low confidence in their ability to provide appropriate accommodations.

The Standard’s recent Absence and Disability Readiness Index found that only 29% of employers surveyed feel very confident in accommodating employees’ mental health conditions, and 28% say they are very confident in accommodating employees with drug addictions.

Behind this lack of confidence are three common challenges employers say they face when accommodating mental health conditions: Thinking employees hide their conditions (cited by 64% of employers); lack of knowledge to recognize mental health conditions (52%) and prejudice against people with mental health conditions (30%).

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“When the signs of mental health and substance use conditions go unaddressed, it can have a drastic impact on the workplace in the form of lost productivity and presenteeism,” says Dan Jolivet, a workplace possibilities practice consultant at The Standard. “Many times, HR managers are left to solve these problems alone, reaching far beyond their area of expertise.”
According to The Standard’s survey, partnering with a disability carrier showed some increase in connecting employees with workplace resources.

Stigma has been a challenge, the report notes. Workers reaching out for help who worked with HR said their greatest concern was their accommodation request would be a hassle. By contrast, when reaching out to their direct supervisor, their biggest concern was losing their job.

Employers say they saw a 22% increase in employees’ use of workplace resources — including referrals to an employee assistance program or employee benefits program that specifically support mental health conditions — when a disability carrier was involved in an employee’s return-to-work or stay-at-work plan, according to the survey.

A number of employers like Nationwide and Kaiser Permanente have been embracing behavioral health programs and incorporating them into the company culture to help break down the stigma associated with those programs. For the most part, they contend they have seen increased productivity and lower costs as a result.

“Given that most employers currently offer limited support for mental health issues, these conditions can manifest and create a vicious cycle for employers,” Jolivet says. “Creating a collaborative approach to manage disability within an organization can help save time and money, as accommodations can help boost an employee’s overall health and productivity. This teamwork between HR managers, direct supervisors and disability carriers can ensure employees stay productive, healthy and happy at work.”

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