Mental health has numerous and cascading effects on workers and their families, business productivity, the bottom-line for businesses, and the economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that there are more than 160 million people who are a part of the U.S. workforce today. According to the CDC, Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States, and more than 1 in 5 US adults live with a mental illness.
When people thrive at work, they are more likely to feel physically and mentally healthy overall, and contribute positively to their workplaces, families, and communities. This creates both a responsibility and unique opportunity for employers, managers, and supervisors to create workplace environments that support the health and well-being of workers.
This topic page provides employers, managers, supervisors, and employees resources for both fostering mental wellness in the workplace, and support for employees with diagnosed mental illnesses.
“Everyone has mental health, but not everyone receives a diagnosis involving a mental illness. Mental health includes your overall well-being. Mental illnesses are diagnosable mental health conditions.” Mental Health vs. Mental Illness: Understanding the Differences (healthline.com)
Workplace stressors can worsen the risk of experiencing mental health challenges. The goal for employers, supervisors, and workers is to find ways to alleviate or remove stressors in the workplace to the greatest extent possible, build coping and resiliency supports, and ensure that everyone who needs help know where to turn. Here are some suggestions to begin:
- Be aware and acknowledge that people have varying tolerance to stressors, unique to their own circumstances.
- Identify factors that make it hard for workers to get their jobs done and determine if adjustments can be made.
- Show empathy towards employees so they feel that they are not alone and that they can come to you when they need help.
- Support one another by listening, being respectful, and checking in if there is a concern.
- Talking about Mental Health at Work – Can I Speak (10:22 minutes, TEDx Talks YouTube video)
Creating an environment where employees aren’t afraid to speak up about what they’re going through, which can result in better relationships and even more productivity.
- Preventing Suicide at Work: Information for Employers, Managers and Employees ( 0:49 minutes, YouTube video)
Being at work can be good for mental health. But the increasing pressures at work can be stressful. A difficult work environment or ongoing work-related stressors can worsen the mental health of employees. Employers and managers have an important role to play in looking out for the mental health of their staff.
- Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid (17:14 minutes, Ted.com video)
Building emotional resilience and practicing emotional hygiene. Touches on the impacts of loneliness, failure, rejection, rumination (replaying over) and the importance of self-esteem and battling negative thinking.
Checklists, Articles, Toolbox Talk
- Working Together to Address Workplace Stress and Mental Health (OSHA)
- Mental Health Checklist for Senior Managers (OSHA)
- Find Support for Issues with Mental Health, Drugs, or Alcohol (resource page, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration )
- Toolbox Talk Mental Health & Workplace Safety (AGC of Washington/Lakeside Industries)
- Safety Talk: Mental Health Awareness (BC’s Hub – PDF, and video) This Safety Talk introduces the topic of Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace: what it is, why it matters, risks to mental health at work, and tips for wellness.
Mental health impacts many aspects of a person’s life, including the ability to achieve maximum productivity in the workplace. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, and one in four Americans currently knows someone who has a mental health condition.
Mental health issues are common, and affect workplace performance, productivity, retention, healthcare costs, and more. Most employers likely have at least one employee with a mental health condition. Workplace health promotion programs have proven to be successful support for employees, especially when they combine mental and physical health interventions. For instance:
- Wellness programs – An initiative that is designed to improve and promote health and fitness.
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) - A workplace benefit that provides employees counseling services to help overcome any personal or workplace challenges. What is an EAP?
- Member Assistance Program (MAP) – Are similar to EAPs and provide resources to union members giving them access to counseling and referral services.
- DEI Programs - Initiatives centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion to help create a culture of respect and acceptance in the workplace. This contributes to an environment that values employee mental wellness.
- Safety Talk: Addressing Burnout (3:17 minutes, BC’s Hub video for workplace Mental Health)
This brief video addresses steps we can all take to help reduce the incidence of burnout at work, keep ourselves well, and promote a healthy workplace culture.
Toolkit, Poster, Checklist, Articles
- Working Well: Leading a Mentally Healthy Business (toolkit, psychiatry.org)
The Working Well toolkit provides human resource professionals and business leaders with practical information and strategies, assessment tools, mental health programs, and case studies to educate employers about current best practices to create supportive workplace environments.
- Moving forward: Helping workers cope after they witness a serious incident (Safety+Health magazine)
- After A Fatality-The Impact Never Goes Away (Safety+Health magazine)
- Wellbeing Activities for Team Meetings (lovinglife.com)
- 10 Healthy Habits for mental fitness (poster, worksafeask.ca)
Many employers are aware of workplace accommodations for people with physical and communication disabilities, but they may be less familiar with accommodations for employees with disabilities that are not visible, such as mental health conditions.
Reasonable accommodations are adjustments to a work setting that make it possible for employees with mental health conditions to perform the essential functions of their jobs. For every $1 spent on ordinary mental health concerns, employers see a $4 return in productivity.
The U.S. Department of Labor suggests some ways employers can support mental health in the workplace:
- Flexible Workplace - Telecommuting and/or working from home.
- Scheduling - Part-time work hours, job sharing, adjustments in the start or end of work hours, compensation time and/or "make up" of missed time.
- Leave - Sick leave for reasons related to mental health, flexible use of vacation time, additional unpaid or administrative leave for treatment or recovery, leaves of absence and/or use of occasional leave (a few hours at a time) for therapy and other related appointments.
- Breaks - Breaks according to individual needs rather than a fixed schedule, more frequent breaks and/or greater flexibility in scheduling breaks, provision of backup coverage during breaks, and telephone breaks during work hours to call professionals and others needed for support.
- Other Policies - Beverages and/or food permitted at workstations, if necessary, to mitigate the side effects of medications, on-site job coaches.
- See examples of modifications, equipment/technology, job duties, and management/supervision.
The CDC suggests the following steps to offer employee assistance/access by:
- Providing available mental health assessment tools to all employees.
- Offering health insurance with no or low out-of-pocket costs for depression medications and mental health counseling.
- Creating and maintaining dedicated quiet spaces for relaxation activities.
- Giving employees opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress.
- Find out more here.
- Accommodations for Mental Illness in the Workplace? (28:43 minutes, Living Well with Mental Illness –YouTube video blog)
This podcast episode discusses accommodations in the workplace that can be helpful for people living with a mental illness. They also discuss what it takes from leadership in a company or organization to create and promote an accepting workplace culture that prioritizes employee mental health and wellbeing.
- Mental health-related reasonable accommodations in the workplace (49:35 minutes, Massachusetts Office on Disability – YouTube video)
Mental health related reasonable Accommodations in Workplace Training presentation with additional resources.
Resource Pages, Toolkit
- Accommodation and Compliance: Mental Health Conditions (Job Accommodation Network (JAN))
This page provides details about accommodating employees with mental health conditions, including numerous accommodation ideas listed by limitation or work-related function.
- The JAN Workplace Accommodation Toolkit (askjan.org)
The Toolkit provides guidance and resources for developing or updating accommodation policies and processes while leveraging the best proven practices available to date. The Toolkit contains actionable accommodation policies and processes from leading U.S. businesses, a suite of accommodation forms, training presentations, and role play videos modeling inclusive behaviors.
- Depression, PTSD, & Other Mental Health Conditions in the Workplace: Employee Legal Rights (resource page, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, This document provides information on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rights of people with depression, PTSD, and other Mental Health Conditions.)