Mental illness is one of the top causes of worker disability in the U.S., with 62% of missed work days attributed to mental health conditions. In addition, 42% of employees who have a mental health issue say they have come to work with suicidal feelings.
Unum released these findings as part of their report, “Strong Minds At Work,” which shows the prevalence of mental illness in the workplace, and the factors triggering mental health issues.
Among the key findings:
- 67% of workers with a diagnosed mental health disorder suffer from anxiety disorder, and 66% of workers with a mental health disorder have been diagnosed with depression.
- More than half (55%) of working adults said their employer did not have, or they were unsure whether their employer had, a specific program, initiative, or policy in place to address mental health.
- 62% of employees said they experienced a period where they felt mentally unwell.
Graphic courtesy of Unum
Despite these percentages, workers are often afraid to seek help, the Unum study showed. More than 60% of employees believe there’s a social stigma in the workplace toward colleagues who have mental health issues. Nearly one-third (32%) of workers with mental health issues have not told anyone at work, 28% have told their manager, 25% have disclosed to co-workers other than their manager, 20% disclosed on their employment application and 19% told their human resource department.
Nearly 40% who chose not to disclose their mental health issue said they feared discrimination or harassment by colleagues. More than one-quarter said they were ashamed to disclose their mental health issue.
What is triggering mental health issues at work?
“What we found in the research is that the key issues for mental health issues are bucketed into health, finances and work,” said Michelle Jackson, assistant vice president of regional market development at Unum. “Somebody’s own health condition can trigger a mental health issue. Finances are a big bucket - 67% said finances have triggered a mental health issue. And then we also see the health of a loved one, job satisfaction and personal relationships factoring in to mental health.”
Brokers can help employers and their workers navigate health issues and financial stressors through the right benefits package and by educating HR professionals and employees about the mental health resources that are available, Jackson said.
“There are multiple factors that are going to result in stress and somebody being absent from work,” she said. “So if a benefits consultant is approaching an employer, they need to understand that the employer is trying to meet the needs of the employee in a number of ways – typically, medical, dental, vision, ancillary benefits and then you get into the scope of disability, illness and life insurance. So understanding that financial stress and health issues are two of the biggest triggers for mental health issues, if we can start that conversation that benefits can help to solve those stressors, benefits can be a solution to those stressors that are triggering mental health issues at work.”
Employers said they have resources available to help workers with mental health issues. More than 90% said they have an employee assistance program in the workplace. But only 38% of workers said they are aware of such a program.
“So if we know that mental illness and mental stress are prevalent, and we know workers are coming to work feeling that way, we think we’ve done a great job of developing resources for them, but clearly there’s a disconnect with the understanding of what those benefits are,” Jackson said.
The benefits consultant who can connect the mental health discussion with the benefits discussion will be seen as a solution partner to their employer clients, she added.
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.