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ATLANTA — Employers could boost worker productivity and reduce absenteeism by helping remove the stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental health issues, several experts told members of the Disability Management Employer Coalition on Monday.
To do that, employers can structure their health and welfare programs to recognize and address mental illness in the same way they treat physical ailments such as heart or liver disease, speakers told attendees of DMEC's 18th annual conference, being held Aug. 18-21 in Atlanta.
Employers also can train their supervisors to help lead employees to their company's mental health benefits offerings.
“Employers need to play a more active role in this, not only by providing services to help individuals in the workplace who are suffering from mental illness, but by training supervisors who deal one on one with employees on a regular basis to better serve them and get them to the help they need,” said Dr. Barton Margoshes, medical consultant for Chicago-based Pacific Resources Benefits Advisors L.L.C.
Substantial progress in understanding the brain and helping even those with serious mental illness contribute to society has occurred over the past two decades, said Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady and keynote speaker for the event.
Yet stigma remains the biggest obstacle for helping people with mental illness, and it causes discrimination in areas such health care, housing and insurance, Ms. Carter said.
The stigma will always exist, but more employers are learning that providing employees help for mental health issues reduces days away from work due to disabilities, said Christopher Anderson, president of Medaca Health Group in Toronto.
“For the first time, we are seeing recognition that mental health in the workplace is not simply a human resource practice,” Mr. Anderson told DMEC. “Today, mental health is a business imperative.”
Early intervention in getting employees mental health assistance is increasingly important in today's work environment, where 85% of jobs demand mental attention rather than physical labor, he added.
“Mental mistakes, or mistakes by overworked and stressed employees, increasingly drive business failure,” Mr. Anderson said. “Healthy, mentally fit employees are required to meet business goals, especially in a world that is more stress-filled than ever.”
Reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues won't evaporate soon, agreed Marcia Carruthers, board chairman for San Diego-based DMEC. But Ms. Carruthers urged DMEC members attending the conference to talk about mental health and educate their workplaces about the importance of appropriately addressing mental illness.
“Those of you in the audience need to educate your workforce, your managers, your employees, your unions,” Ms. Carruthers said. “You could make a difference.”
This Society For Human Resource Management paper advises employers to consider coordinating employee assistance program counseling with workers compensation claims management.