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Why employers should focus on mental health

When you think of wellness in the workplace, what comes to mind? If you didn’t think of mental health right away, you’re not alone. However, when it comes to overall wellness, mental health—which includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being—is just as important as physical health.

Mental health should be a top priority for employers because mental illness is very common among people of all ages. Over 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives. Additionally, 1 in 25 Americans have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, like bipolar disorder or major depression.1 Mental illnesses may have serious and long-lasting effects and can also be very costly to the people living with the disorder, their families, and their employers.

Mental health is a significant issue on its own, but mental health disorders also have a significant impact on physical health. Mental illness increases the risk of many physical health issues, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. In fact, nearly 72% of individuals with diagnosed depression are overweight or obese, placing them at high risk for chronic physical health conditions.2 Likewise, many chronic health conditions may increase the risk of mental illness or worsen the symptoms of existing conditions.

"1 in 25 Americans have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness."

High levels of stress are often linked to worsening mental well-being and, like mental illness, excess stress at work can lead to physical health conditions. There are a number of working conditions that may lead to increased stress, including the following:

  • A heavy workload with minimal breaks to rest
  • The feeling that you have no say in workplace decision making
  • Lack of support from supervisors or coworkers
  • Unpleasant or unhealthy physical work conditions (eg, noise, air pollution, ergonomic issues)

When stressful situations like these are frequent or prolonged, employees are at a higher risk of injury or disease. Stress may cause health issues, including sleep disturbances, stomach issues, and headaches. Furthermore, if left untreated, stress can also play a role in the development of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders.3

It is encouraging to know that stress levels and mental well-being are not static. It is possible for people to improve their mental wellness. Many mental health disorders can be treated, and early diagnosis may lower health-related costs and possibly prevent other chronic diseases. Employers can implement a holistic wellness approach at the workplace by implementing programs to promote employee mental health alongside typical wellness offerings, like biometric screenings. In fact, our partner, Omada, recently announced new programs to help employers connect individuals with depression and anxiety to cognitive behavioral therapy

"Mental illness increases the risk of many physical health issues, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes."

5 ways employers can help improve employee mental health

Unfortunately, less than a third of people diagnosed with a mental illness receive the treatment they need.4 If employees’ mental health needs are not met, it may cause their work life to suffer, leading to:

  • Decreased productivity and performance
  • Less effective communication with colleagues
  • Worsening physical well-being

However, there are many steps you can take as an employer to improve mental health in the workplace.

Improve communication about resources offered

If your company offers a well-being program, be sure employees know about it, especially if that program also offers support in identifying mental health risks and connecting individuals into treatment. Let employees know the ways the program may also provide support for reducing and managing stress.

It is also essential to send regular emails and communications that help your population understand the physical and mental health benefits that your company provides. In these communications, encourage employees to take advantage of the services available. Send ongoing announcements, information, and tips about tools, apps, seminars, and coaching programs as they are available.

Encourage open conversations and support

When employees foster good relationships at work, it can help create an environment that prioritizes mental health. If they feel comfortable, you can even request that leaders share their mental health experiences with others. Leaders can make a large difference in reducing the stigma around the subject, and play an important role in normalizing the conversation about mental health.

Additionally, it is important to provide managers and people leaders with the resources they need to support their teams and encourage them to seek help if needed.

Promote the importance of physical health

Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand; when one suffers, the other is likely to as well. When individuals maintain their physical health, it can help improve their mental health. Communicate the importance of completing yearly biometric screenings and regular well-being checkups with employees so they understand their health risks and are empowered to take the time to improve their health.

Model stress-management techniques

Individuals who practice habits that help reduce and cope with stress also  benefit their mental health. When leaders in the organization model these behaviors, it is easier for employees to adopt them as well.

Examples of key stress-management techniques include:

  • Staying positive; if negative feelings come up in meetings or conversations, acknowledge them (whether they’re your feelings or someone else’s), but don’t dwell on them
  • Showing gratitude by recognizing when employees are doing a good job and thanking them for their efforts
  • Encouraging employees to build breaks for exercise, meditation, or yoga into their days, and be sure employees see you taking these breaks yourself
  • Prioritizing your own stress management with breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques to help create a less-stressful environment
  • Setting healthy boundaries for your work and personal life and encouraging employees to do the same

Think about the big picture

Your company may already require employees to set work-related goals, but consider setting “well-being goals” as a company as well. Having goals to work toward may help everyone keep mental and physical health at the forefront of their minds.

Additionally, ask employees to think beyond the day-to-day tasks of their jobs. Use newsletters, team meetings, and even casual conversations to share testimonials and point out how the work your employees do makes a difference in the lives of others (eg, through relationship building, services provided, helpful ideas, etc).5

The workplace plays an important role in employee mental health, so be sure you are doing what you can to make mental health a priority at your workplace. It will make a difference in both the quality of work your employees produce, as well as the quality of their lives.

How Quest can help

Quest Diagnostics offers a suite of population health solutions for employers that address both physical and mental health conditions. All solutions offered by Quest are clinically based and help connect the right employees to the right care.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental Health. January 26, 2018. Accessed January 14, 2019. 

2. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Mental Health. Accessed January 14, 2019. 

3. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Stress at Work. Accessed January 14, 2019. 

4. Harvard Business Review. We need to talk more about mental health at work. Accesed January 14, 2019.

5. MedlinePlus. How to improve mental health. Accessed January 14, 2019. 

Learn more about our employer population health solutions

See how Quest can help your organization address physical and mental health challenges among your workforce. 

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