People spend a lot of time at work. The average, full-time employee will spend about one-third of their weekdays at work, and when one adds in overtime, commuting and thinking about work at home, the workplace consumes a sizable portion of a person’s life.

With employees spending more time at work, psychologists, employers and physicians are paying more attention to mental health in the workplace. By addressing workplace mental health, workers can be happier, safer and more productive.

Prevalence of Mental Illness

Mental health concerns are extremely prevalent in America. According to mental health in the workplace statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Nearly 20% of adults in the U.S. (about 45 million people) have a mental illness each year
  • Fewer than 9% of adults reported receiving mental health treatment each year
  • About 71% of adults report experiencing symptoms of high stress

Though conditions may begin during the teen years, mental illness in adults is common, with people experiencing anxiety disorders and mood disorders like depression most frequently. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports:

  • Nearly 7% of adults (16 million people) had a depressive episode in the last year
  • More than 18% had an anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorderobsessive-compulsive disorders and phobias
  • Over 20 million people have a substance use disorder
  • About 10 million people have co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders

Mental health conditions are everywhere. They seem to affect each person, either directly by having a disorder or indirectly by having a loved one with a disorder.

Why It’s a Problem

Increasing numbers of mental health concerns create a problem because people do not just leave their symptoms at home. They continue working through the symptoms of their mental health condition and bring their disorders into the workplace.

As increasing numbers of people have psychological conditions, the effects of mental health in the workplace become more evident. People may find it hard to perform their job duties to the expected levels while they manage the symptoms of mental health conditions.

Some workers bring a preexisting mental illness into the workplace, while others develop new or worsening symptoms from the workplace. High stress may trigger new disorders to emerge.

The modern workplace is full of stress as people have increasing pressures, responsibilities and accountability for their performance. With growing stressors, people will feel the repercussions of high-stress levels.

Work-related stress can cause physical health symptoms, like:

  • Low energy
  • Tension
  • Headaches
  • Heart problems
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nausea and stomach problems

The psychological impacts of work stress include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Discouragement
  • Irritability
  • Pessimism
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Poor concentration

The physical and mental concerns can lead to behavioral changes in the workplace:

  • More missed work days
  • Aggression with co-workers
  • Diminished creativity and problem-solving
  • Worse job performance
  • Relationship problems
  • Impatience

Overall, more people with mental health disorders paired with increased workplace stress leads to a problematic and potentially dangerous work situation.

Economic Impact of Mental Illness

Mental health issues have a negative economic impact on businesses and the country as a whole. As people respond to high stress and mental illness, their work performance naturally declines.

In the United States, mental health and substance abuse issues are costly, with:

  • Businesses losing as much as $100 billion every year
  • Serious mental illness costing $193.2 billion in lost earnings
  • Depression causing 400 million lost work days

Globally, the economic impact of mental health is more staggering, with 300 million people living with depression worldwide and $1 trillion in lost productivity from depression and anxiety every year. With statistics trending higher, it seems the issue of mental health in the workplace and the economic cost is only getting worse.

How to Support Mental Health in the Workplace

The burden of supporting mental health in the workplace starts with employers. When organizations recognize that each employee has unique mental health needs, they can create a happier, more productive work environment.

To support mental health in the workplace, employers can:

  • Start the Conversation. By acknowledging the presence and the possible impact of stress and mental disorders in the workplace, the employer helps to minimize mental health stigma and begins to move toward acceptance.
  • Develop Initiatives. Moving beyond talk, initiatives and programs targeting mental health issues are needed. Recently, many companies have begun launching ambitious plans to teach employees about mental health, seek help when needed and provide support to co-workers who need help. Some organizations even offer counseling onsite or through an employee-assistance program.
  • Create a Positive Work Environment. All the best conversations and programs are meaningless if a work environment is stressful and negative. If a company creates a positive culture by limiting work hours, engaging employees in teams, setting reasonable goals, promoting physical health and providing mental health services, going to work will feel less stressful and more productive.

Once employers do their part, workers can feel more comfortable addressing their mental health needs and wants in and out of the work setting, which ends with better quality and quantity of work, and fewer losses for the company. When mental health is secure in the workplace, everyone wins.

If you, a loved one or a co-worker is using substances to manage work stress or a mental health issue, they could benefit from a call to The Recovery Village. Professional addiction treatment like that found at The Recovery Village can improve coping skills while addressing the issues contributing to substance use.

a man smiling in front of a brick wall.
By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.