The Case for Investing in Workplace Mental Health

Why the workplace is a great place for prevention strategies

Posted Feb 21, 2016

A little more than ten years ago, I woke up in a hospital after having mentally crashed and burned due to years of successfully juggling work, school and motherhood. I was on the path to tenure after having earned a PhD from UC Berkeley while simultaneously teaching full-time, working as a researcher in a top Silicon Valley research firm, and taking care of a young child. The workplace response left me feeling vulnerable and unsupported.

Forward to 2016 and I work for an employer where I can be open about my mental illness and seek support as necessary. Over the last 2 years I have successfully managed my symptoms - without a need for accommodations - using a holistic approach to my mental health and well-being. These strategies focus on sleep, nutrition, exercise and healthy interpersonal relationships.

The Cost of Workplace Stress 

However, not many people are as lucky as I am. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 65% of people cite work as a top source of stress and only 36% of respondents thought their workplace provided adequate supports. According to the APA stress can lead to depression, anxiety, obesity, sleep disturbances, hypertension, heart disease and a weakened immune system. The CDC estimates the cost of mental disorders to the US economy at $300 billion in 2002 and a 2014 report from the UK government calculated that 70m workdays are lost due to mental health issues such as depression and negative stress responses, with an annual cost of £70-100 billion. However, a PwC report from 2014 calculated that for each dollar spent on workplace mental health there is a return of $2.30. 

Strategies for Workplace Mental Health

The case for preventive mental health strategies in the workplace is clear. Employers should provide employees with the health information they need to take care of themselves psychologically and emotionally, instead of waiting until there is a problem that requires a HR response or a medical intervention. Health maintenance programs that promote mental well-being would prevent illness, improve interpersonal relationships at work and at home, reduce medical costs, and increase productivity and engagement.