Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace: A Cultural Imperative

Posted by Mikenna Rivard and Caroline Hetzel from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on August 6, 2018


As part of the OCHWW internship program, we have been working closely with a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect mental health in teens and young adults. In working with this organization, we have found an opportunity to engage not only these groups generally, but have identified possible opportunities to specifically target and provide help to those young adults who are transitioning into the workforce. We believe that to effectively engage this demographic, fostering a culture where mental health is addressed, nurtured, and destigmatized is beneficial on a professional, organizational, and societal level.



Mental illness can cause both physical and social isolation.1 If someone feels as if they are stigmatized or misunderstood because of their mental illness, that individual may tend to keep to themselves out of fear of being judged. Creating a professional culture of understanding and acceptance around topics including employees’ mental health can help foster a safe space where employees feel empowered to engage in authentic dialogue. This, in turn, has the potential to help facilitate employee collaboration.2 One example of a forward-thinking organization looking to combat this isolation and enhance the mental health of professionals is Aetna’s Emotional and Mental Health interactive workbook, which includes a variety of assets such as depression assessments, stress management tools, and treatment options. Having resources such as these tees up the opportunity to address employee concerns and raise the level of awareness throughout the organization.



According to the United Nations News, depression is the leading cause for disability leave worldwide.3 And mental illness can be extremely costly to organizations. The World Health Organization reports that nearly $1 trillion is lost in productivity each year due to untreated mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.4 Investing in mental health programs within the organizational sphere can be cost effective and can generate up to $2.30 ROI for every dollar spent to encourage this initiative.5 Mental wellbeing also affects employee turnover, considering burnout can be a result of both personal and work-induced stress.


The World Health Organization reports that nearly $1 trillion is lost in productivity each year due to untreated mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.4


By incorporating resources from firms such as Corporate Counseling Associates, Inc. (CCA), companies can better support and champion the mental wellbeing of their employees, which in turn could reduce the number of work days lost to this pressing issue.6 Contributions to improve organizational culture, including addressing and nurturing mental health, can contribute to a reduction in employee turnover, as well as a company’s ability to attract and retain talent.7 A recent CCA study demonstrates how implementing employee assistance programs to improve mental health can boost organizational health as well. Additionally, for companies to allow employees to use sick days for mental health reasons would educate and drive awareness of this serious problem at hand throughout the organization. Remember the outpouring of support for the employee who honestly requested a mental health day and the boss who wholeheartedly and publicly supported this?



According to Johns Hopkins, one in four adults is affected by a mental illness.8 And many mental health issues go undiscussed. Considering 60% of Americans diagnosed with a mental illness have not received any treatment in the last year,9 creating a culture that encourages and fosters the mental health of its members may not only help to reduce the stigma, but it can also highlight resources that the organization may have in place to assist. One example of such resources is Aetna’s list of support programs available to assist employees with their mental wellbeing. Some of these resources include a 24/7 “Ask a Nurse” program, online communities, and healthy lifestyle coaching.



We have the opportunity to nurture positive mental health behaviors and to pass down these habits to our children and future generations. “The mental health histories of both parents and grandparents play an important role in the social and emotional wellbeing of young children,” according to the authors of a three-generation study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry.10 Fostering a culture where mental health is destigmatized provides the opportunity to equip the next generation of individuals with the tools necessary to feel comfortable discussing their mental health to better care for themselves and others.


For more resources on mental health support on an organizational level and how to implement an employee assistance program, please visit