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How HR Can Help Employees with Mental Wellness

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five American adults lives with a mental illness, and one in 25 lives with one that seriously interferes with major life activities. Among individuals aged 18-44 – a large group of working-age Americans – mental health disorders such as major depression and bipolar disorder are the third most-common cause of hospitalization. And even more directly tied to business growth or stagnation: American companies lose $193.2 billion in earnings each year due to mental illness.

Helping your employees safely address mental health is good for employee health, your workforce and your business. Your EAP is an invaluable tool here.

What HR is not responsible for

First and foremost, if an employee comes to you with concerns about their mental health, know your limits. It’s acceptable – in fact, it’s recommended – to respectfully let your employee know that this isn’t in your wheelhouse, but that you’ll help find appropriate resources. This may be an opportunity to start engaging in a conversation about reasonable accommodation, if the employee requests time off or other adaptations at work.

Regardless, help the individual take advantage of the benefits your company provides. Your job is to be a resource – not a counselor or psychiatrist. Help your employee connect with those who are professionally trained to identify and treat mental illnesses.

When managers are involved

If a manager informs you that one of their employees needs assistance with mental health concerns, you may recommend the manager sensitively guide that employee to meet with an HR representative, or empower the leader to share EAP and benefits resources in a private meeting with that employee. Mental illness is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 2008, so take care to avoid actions that appear discriminatory. Managers should not ask employees continued questions about their condition or probe for specific details.

Confidentiality is the name of HR’s game when it comes to EAP usage, and when employees seek mental health treatment, it’s no different. Even if a manager recommends an employee engage EAP services to seek treatment for mental health issues, it’s best to avoid sharing any information with the manager about the employee’s usage of the EAP. You won’t have access from EAP providers to much information about a specific employee’s usage anyway, so it’s easy to keep it confidential.

Making resources available

Your employees may not be aware of everything your company offers, and an employee who has decided to seek treatment for a mental illness may be in a state of distress that makes searching for those resources difficult. If an individual shares mental health issues with you, provide contact information for your EAP, and remind your employee of any counseling or mental health options available as part of your company’s benefits package. Managers, loop in HR if your company provides those resources, so they can assist if needed.

If your organization needs to make reasonable accommodations, your employee should work with HR to provide necessary information from their medical provider as part of the conversation about which accommodations can be made. Do not share that information with anyone else in the workplace. Keep the conversation centered around what the employee needs to complete the essential tasks of the job, rather than his or her symptoms or diagnosis.

You don’t have to be a licensed mental health professional to help your employees tackle the mental health challenges they may face. Be available and approachable. Point them to the resources your company has made available to them, ensure confidentiality and encourage them to take advantage of those resources. The well-being of your workforce will improve, and that often means productivity will increase as well.