Nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. Meanwhile, opioid abuse and dependency grew under lax regulation to become a national public health emergency under federal law.
In 2017 alone, over 47,000 Americans died by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. Men die by suicide three and a half times more often than women, with white males accounting for almost 70% of suicide deaths. One in five Americans report being treated for depression at some point in their lifetime, with many more remaining untreated due to the stigma still surrounding mental health.
Both substance abuse and mental health have a direct effect on the health and safety of an organization. Without proper supports, employees struggling with these issues become disengaged, less productive and, in some cases, a workplace hazard. It’s important for organizations to understand how their policies can support the mental well-being and overall safety of the workplace.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health
How many times have you heard this statement: “Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows a lack of willpower”?
Addiction as a lifestyle choice is a myth surrounding substance abuse/addiction. The reality is that addiction is an illness that generally results from changes in the brain chemistry and is manifested in behavior.
How about this statement: “Someone with mental illness is likely to get much worse”?
Difficult treatment is a myth surrounding mental illness. The reality is that treatment success rates for depression, bipolar and schizophrenia are higher than the treatment success rates for heart disease.
These statements illustrate how individuals with substance dependency and/or mental illness can be stereotyped and discriminated against. We are doing a disservice to our employees when we don’t recognize these unconscious biases. For many, the impact of the stigma associated with their struggle is worse than the symptoms of their illness or addiction.
A Supportive Workplace
There are parallel behaviors that organizational leaders and co-workers may notice when a colleague is struggling with either substance abuse or mental illness. Being able to recognize behavior and then communicate to a struggling employee is important. Often, we ignore these challenges because we think we can’t address a peer’s struggles in supportive ways. This does not help the employee or the organization to be safe and healthy.
Organizations can best care for employees by seeking up-to-date information on mental health, substance abuse and addiction to shape workplace culture, wellness and policy. In addition, organizations need to make sure managers, supervisors and other leadership staff are trained to recognize the signs of struggle and can connect employees with the support they need.
One effective solution for a healthy workplace is an employee assistance program (EAP). While some employer-sponsored health plans come bundled with an EAP, stand-alone EAP service providers like FEI Behavioral Health guarantee access to experts in substance abuse and mental health, offering employees the resources they need to stay safe, happy and productive. Additional resources such as manager consultations and guidance to support employees is essential for everyone involved.
FEI has a 40-year history in enhancing workforce resiliency by offering a full spectrum of solutions, from EAP and organizational development to workplace violence prevention and crisis management. One of the most successful social enterprises in America, FEI is wholly owned by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a national network of social sector organizations working to achieve its vision of a healthy and equitable society.