Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s easy math to consider that an employer, with even as few as 50 employees, has approximately 10 who need us to care as much about their mental illness as we do things like diabetes and heart disease. We need to take a more proactive approach to supporting those people.
When it comes to the health of employees, many employers are proud to share details of their wellness program. They offer flu shots, screenings, and health fairs. The problem with that approach is, when you think of wellness in terms of a wheel, those programs capture just one spoke. What about the rest? Spokes such as social, spiritual, intellectual, and financial are great additions to any wellness wheel but, the mental spoke should always be included.
As employers consider specific wellness benefits that cater to the mental spoke, there are a variety of options. In fact, some healthy initiatives speak to improving both physical and mental health. Examples of those include:
- Exercise. It is just as good for the brain as it is for the body. Hosting activity challenges (which can be free!) is a great way to encourage exercise.
- Sunlight! A little vitamin D goes a long way. While sunscreen and avoiding overexposure are important, consider getting outside. Is there a picnic table for employee use?
- Speaking of outside, give nature a try! Many articles suggest time in nature helps reduce stress. Encourage employees to take a walk at lunch. Perhaps a designated walking path would be well-received.
- Food! Consider partnering with a nutritionist to help employees understand why employees are drawn to things like sugar and carbs. Obviously too many calories are bad for our waistline but, they’re also bad for our brain.
One benefit specifically aimed to improve mental health is an Employee Assistance Program. This is a valuable benefit to help employees manage short-term situations. In fact, you might consider scheduling an appointment and trying it yourself! Be able to talk about the experience. Help normalize counseling. It’s no different than hitting a walk-in clinic for a respiratory infection. When our brain is in knots, we may need someone to help get it untied. That’s just how we should be talking about it.
For longer-term mental health conditions that require more than short-term counseling, the mental spoke can also be strengthened through health plan benefits that allow affordable access to appropriate professionals and/or medication.
Optimal use of all wellness benefits begins with regular communication. Educate your employees, not just on the programs available, but also how those programs may specifically improve their health. As you consider your wellness wheel, be sure to check you spokes.
Written by Holly Christianson, SHRM-SCP, Human Resources Manager, Fort Wayne Metals .
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of distress, please reach out to a mental health professional or get confidential, free support and text LOOKUP to 494949 or chat online here.
If you live in Indiana and need help finding a behavioral health provider, visit Find Help or call (800) 284-8439.
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