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Mental Health in the Workplace – A Series – An Overview of the Problem (This is Important!)

The mind and the body are inseparable. And you want to involve the entire employee in your workplace wellness program, right?

Most workplace wellness programs today aren’t wellness programs at all — they’re employee health management programs. Why am I saying this? Most workplace wellness programs focus solely on employee physical health to the exclusion of all other dimensions of wellness.

As conceived by the founders of the modern wellness field (Robert Allen, Donald Ardell, Halbert Dunn, Bill Hettler, and John Travis), wellness is a multidimensional concept. The National Wellness Institute’s published wellness model includes the following dimensions: physical, social, emotional, intellectual, occupational, and spiritual.

Emotional well-being is associated with many health, family, work, and economic benefits. Positive emotions and outlook on life are associated with a reduced risk of illness, disease and injury; better immune function; better coping and faster recovery; and a longer life. In addition, mental health and mental illness can affect physical health and biological functioning. Positive mental health is associated with better endocrine function (ie, lower levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine) and better immune response (ie, higher production of antibodies and greater resistance to disease). It has also been shown to be associated with longevity.

Researchers continue to learn more and more about the mind-body connection. Emotions have been clearly shown to play a major role in our physical health. There is also a reciprocal relationship between many chronic illnesses and mental health. Self-efficacy, goal setting, and problem solving enable self-management behavior, and these components depend on emotional health. On the other hand, self-management behaviors that improve health, such as physical activity and stress reduction, can improve mental health status and quality of life. In many ways, it makes no sense to address physical health without simultaneously addressing emotional health.

The absence of mental illness does not imply the presence of mental health. Growing research supports the view that these are independent, but related dimensions. Mental well-being is characterized by the presence of positive affect (eg, optimism, cheerfulness, and interest), absence of negative affect, and life satisfaction. On the other hand, mental illness is characterized by changes in thinking, mood or behavior associated with anxiety or impaired functioning.

Why tackle mental wellbeing in the workplace?

The health of body and mind cannot be separated. What affects one affects the other. A healthy mind thus supports and contributes to a healthy body and vice versa.

Mental illness costs employers money, and mental health can affect employee productivity and performance. Like physical health, mental health can be viewed as a continuum. On the one hand there is the mental health and the mental illness is on the other.

Mental health generally refers to the successful performance of mental functioning, resulting in productive activities, satisfying relationships, and the ability to adapt to change and adversity. These domains are commonly referred to as wellbeing.

Mental illnesses include illnesses with classic psychiatric diagnoses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Mental health and mental illness can be influenced by multiple determinants, including genetics and biology and their interactions with social and environmental factors.

Employers approach employee health through a multi-strategic framework. A multi-strategy framework can also be applied to an employer approach to mental health. An integrated approach includes: promotion, prevention, intervention and follow-up. It is important to recognize that the promotion of mental health should be as important as the prevention and treatment of mental illness.

Today’s workplace wellness programs need to address all aspects of employee wellbeing, not just physical health.

Addressing the total wellbeing of employees

Employee mental health is a critical part of successful workplace wellness programs. I invite you to let me help you create your own effective, successful and sustainable program. I specialize in mentoring workplace program coordinators and creating Done With You employee health and wellness programs in the workplace. 

Brought to you by Bill McPeck, Your Worksite Wellness Mentor. Committed to helping employers and workplace program coordinators create successful, sustainable employee health and wellness programs, especially in small employer environments.

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