Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

By Mary Lynn Fayoumi, CAE, SPHR, GPHR, President & CEO
Published June 12, 2018

This past week, news of the tragic deaths of two celebrities led to increased dialogue regarding mental illness in America. The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom had achieved significant success in their respective careers, remind us that professional achievements and financial stability do not guarantee health and contentment. Although progress has been made in reducing the stigma of mental health conditions over the past few decades, the heightened public awareness regarding the rising rates of suicide in the U.S. will hopefully prompt increased attention on the treatment of mental illness. 

mental health issues in the workplace

Most of us have been touched by mental health issues either personally or know friends or family members who struggle with depression, anxiety or other conditions. It's clear that mental health struggles are extremely prevalent and that more can be done to get people the help they need to improve their well-being and lives. Human resources professionals can often play a particularly vital role in providing guidance to managers and to employees who may face these issues.  Here are a few ways that HR can make a difference:

Explaining Benefit Options
Employees may not be aware of the various benefits that their employers provide which can help them with the mental health conditions facing them or their family members.  HR should be able to explain how employees can access the menu of services offered by an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or take advantage of employer-provided health insurance options which might include counseling, in-patient programs or prescription drugs.  

Offering Leave and/or Reasonable Accommodations
Some conditions may require an employee to take some time away from work either episodically or for a longer period. HR can not only effectively outline the options, but also explain the required paperwork if FMLA, ADA, STD, LTD or some combination thereof is part of the equation. Managers may be reliant on HR to assist closely with this process, especially when it comes to determining reasonable accommodations and handling return to work scenarios.

Providing Training 
Whether HR delivers training or simply arranges for it, training managers and supervisors to handle sensitive health-related issues is increasingly important. Managers need to understand how to talk to employees in a professional way that does not violate discrimination laws or HIPAA. In addition, managers will always benefit from refreshers on the FMLA, ADA and the organization’s policies and procedures.

Maintaining Confidentiality 
HR should be a safe place for employees to come for advice and counsel. Based on the confidential nature of these discussions, it is imperative that HR deal with each employee in a respectful and positive manner when pointing them in the right direction for the support and services they need.

Seeking Help
There may need to be additional research conducted to determine the right course of action in any given situation. As always, our team stands ready to assist Association members with concerns. Given the current spotlight on mental health, there may be additional requests for guidance on this topic in the coming months.  Should you need our help, please call 800-448-4584 or email us at

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