In light of Mental Health Month in the US, the importance of mental health in the workplace should be carefully considered and approached. According to Mental Health, 14.7% of individuals develop mental health disorders in the workplace, while the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) note that depression and anxiety are among the leading causes of disabilities at work. While this is not a new trend, it has certainly been exacerbated since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Not all disabilities are visible

The director of the American Psychiatric Association highlights how the trifecta of political tensions, economic uncertainty and the pandemic has caused significant amounts of distress across the US, intensifying the pre-existing mental health impacts of already toxic workplace environments. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that since March 2020, rates of anxiety and depression have quadrupled. Mental stress can lead to poor job performance, including a lack of motivation, increased errors and reduced communication with colleagues.

While there is no legal requirement to disclose mental health disorders to employers, they must try and build a dialogue with their employees to raise awareness and reinforce the fact that mental wellbeing is a top priority.

A culture of care 

In the US, mental health sufferers are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), meaning that employees are entitled to request changes encompassing everything from the hiring process to adjusting the work environment. The ADA states that businesses with 15 or more employees must comply to make any reasonable adjustments, as long as adjustments do not incur financial hardship. For example, an employee who suffers from anxiety may need flexible working arrangements as overstimulation can be difficult, so working from home should be adopted where possible.

In addition to the ADA, several companies offer employee assistance programmes (EAPs). These are voluntary programmes that offer confidential assessments and short-term counselling plans, irrespective of a mental health diagnosis, which should be utilised where possible and needed.