Three Ways Employers Can Support Workers’ Mental Health 

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Honoring National Mental Health Awareness Month & Maternal Mental Health Month

Almost everyone experiences mental health challenges at some point in their lives. Responsive communities and workplaces can allow people to cope, and even thrive, through adversity. Employers can play a key role in preventing mental health crises, and promoting a culture of awareness and support among their employees.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and Maternal Mental Health Month. This is the perfect time for employers to revisit their benefits policies and practices to ensure that their workplace is part of the solution. Such policies can also benefit employers through improved recruitment, retention, and productivity; as well as reduced absenteeism and turnover.  Our Guide for Family Forward Workplaces highlights several workplace policies that provide mental health support for parents..

Policies that Support Maternal Mental Health

Only 30-50 percent of women with mental illness during pregnancy or postpartum are diagnosed.

  1. Paid Parental Leave  – Paid parental leave is specifically for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child (separate from vacation or sick leave). The American Public Health Association, the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Policy Council all recommend a minimum of 12 weeks of paid parental leave. In the U.S., women typically return to work just 10-14 days after giving birth, due primarily to a lack of paid leave. 

Paid parental leave gives parents the time to bond with their child, build healthy parent-child relationships, and create a family routine to prepare for parents to return to work. This workplace policy also reduces behavioral and mental health problems in both parents and children, and decreases maternal depression and stress. 

Broader Mental Health Supports

  1. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). These are voluntary and typically free, inexpensive programs for employees to help navigate life challenges, crises, stress, and other issues that affect mental or emotional well-being. EAPs are also usually available to employees’ dependents and families.

Through EAPs, employees can access assessments, counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to address issues such as child or elder care disruptions; alcohol or substance abuse; anxiety, stress, or grief; family problems; and financial or legal questions. Many EAPs also help prevent and cope with workplace and partner violence, trauma, and other crises.

EAPs can help to lower stress, alcohol and substance abuse, and family violence; improve mental health and overall health and well-being. Research also shows that for children, EAPs can help reduce behavioral challenges.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1 in 5 US adults live with a mental illness. Over one in five youth (ages 13-18) either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.

3. Family Sustaining Wage – The income a family needs to cover minimum necessary expenses, including food, child care, health care, housing, and transportation is considered a family -sustaining wage.  The MIT Living Wage Calculator contains state- and county-level data about what a family needs to cover basic needs in a given location in the U.S. You can calculate the wage for various family types and sizes.

A family-sustaining wage is one of the most effective ways to reduce financial stressors on mental health. It can improve mental health for parents and their children; and reduces alcohol and tobacco use. 

Use Our Guide for Family Forward Workplaces 

For each policy, our Guide for Family Forward Workplaces details the research about benefits to parents, children, and employers through supporting an employee’s mental health.The Guide covers the range of practice in the U.S., and provides a sample workplace policies.

Good mental health is good for employers, and benefits everyone – our families, and our communities.