Just as schools are a perfect conduit for mental health interventions in young people, the workplace is an ideal intervention point for working-age adults, who constitute 63% of the U.S. population.1“Mental Health in the Workplace,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 26, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html. On the other hand, workplaces can also cause or exacerbate mental health conditions when not well configured to promote mental health. Providing supports and implementing interventions for employees in the workplace, or those experiencing unemployment, could significantly improve America’s mental health outcomes.
Globally, mental health conditions cost an estimated $1 trillion dollars in lost productivity2“Mental Health in the Workplace,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 26, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html.$1 trillion
Employers can play a major role in addressing workplace mental health from the benefits they purchase, to the onsite services and programs they offer, to employee turnover, and to high health care costs.
Whole Workplace Interventions
Workplace factors — in particular, aspects of workplace culture and climate — impact mental health. Certain workplace-wide interventions have been demonstrated to be effective in improving employee mental health. Despite this growing evidence, very few American employees actually receive any effective interventions.
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- The federal government should fund a research consortium on interventions for workplace culture and climate that improve employee mental health, and practical evaluation tools that employers can use to determine if interventions they implement are effective, along with incentives for employers to participate in the consortium.
- The federal government should create an incentive for employers who may not have the capacity to implement effective interventions (e.g. small employers) or who may not see the economic returns of effective interventions (e.g. high rates of employee turnover), but who employ individuals at an elevated risk of negative mental health outcomes (e.g. low-income individuals in low-paid jobs), to implement and evaluate effective interventions by contracting with certified vendors of evidence-based interventions.
Accommodations and Accessibility
Workplace policies impact the mental health of all employees, and in particular affect whether individuals with mental health conditions have the support they need to succeed. Still, many employers have not systematically implemented beneficial policies – especially many employers of individuals at the highest risk.
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- The Department of Justice should issue guidance on the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance for mental health, including a set of evidence-based employer policies that are demonstrated to effectively promote accessibility for individuals with mental health conditions. Guidance for all employers with a certain number of employees should state the near certainty that at least one employee has a mental health condition and they should implement these policies to reduce the likelihood of violations.
- The federal government should provide funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to implement requirements for preventing suicide and related mental health safety issues that result from workplace conditions, as well as placing limits on unfair liability.
Job Loss and Disability
Job loss is a critical moment for people’s mental health. A lack of support can exacerbate mental health problems, worsen employment outcomes or even lead to disability. While unemployment benefits and supports are available in some instances, they are highly stigmatized, and accessing them can further compound mental health problems. Federal policy can help initiate and scale pilots to test more effective approaches.
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- The federal government should create a center within the Social Security Administration that allows for the piloting of innovative models for providing benefits that can further improve outcomes by waiving certain current requirements, but which must still protect legally entitled access – similar to how the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation functions, and that is encouraged to work with CMS on pilots that coordinate health care.
- The federal government should create incentives in federal workforce development programming to make arrangements with an employer’s human resource department to be notified as soon as an employee loses their job, so that the workforce development program can actively outreach to offer services and supports to help the person reengage in the workforce as quickly as possible without stigma or shame.
- The federal government should extend eligibility for supplemental security and disability income to include people with substance use disorders.
Tailored Policies for Unique Needs
To be effective, mental health solutions need to address individuals' range of identities based on race, ethnicity, language, gender, or gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, veteran's status, or life circumstances. We recommend meaningful policies to combat a harmful legacy of one-size-fits-all solutions.Explore our recommended policies for focus populations