Mental Health and the Workplace

May 31, 2023

worker at factory looking sad Hover image

Mental illness is common in the United States. About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. face mental illness each year. The mental health crisis has become top of mind for many employers since the pandemic. 

Mental health can affect output at work. U.S. employees have an average of 3.46 poor mental health days per month. Worldwide, 12 billion working days are lost each year to depression and anxiety, according to the World Health Organization. Anxiety and depression alone cost the global economy $1 trillion each year, mostly from lost productivity. 

About 16 percent of people have a substance use disorder. That includes 29.5 million adults who have an alcohol use disorder and 24 million who have a drug use disorder. 

Mental health can have a big impact on overall health. While good mental health can positively impact your physical health, poor mental health can negatively affect it. Depression increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, for example. 

“All of this has exponential cost. Employers could see an increase to coverage costs,” says Jody Rock, a registered nurse and director of clinical services at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. 

She says they could see an increase in absenteeism, turnover and lost productivity from employees who can’t fully function at work. 

Addressing stigma

Mental health struggles often go unnoticed. They’re not like physical conditions we can sometimes see. 

“Symptoms of depression and anxiety are not always easy to see on the outside. People will talk about their physical health but do not always talk about their mental health,” Rock says. “Part of that may be because of the stigma around mental health. Employees may fear being seen as weak or unreliable or being overlooked for a promotion due to mental health issues.”

Stigma around mental health has existed for most of our history. But this is changing, and you can support your workforce by talking about it. 

How to help

You can support your employees by creating a supportive workplace and addressing burnout. 

“Letting people know it is OK not to be OK is one of the first ways to support one another. Normalizing these experiences is important,” Rock says. 

Work-life balance is good for mental health. Studies show the number of hours worked is a risk factor for mental health issues. Those who work more than 40 hours per week or eight hours per day are more likely to have depression and anxiety. 

Rock says if someone is struggling with depression, anxiety or substance use, stress from work can make that worse.  

Know the warning signs. They may include:

  • A decrease in productivity.
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Mood swings. 
  • Signs of withdrawal. 
  • Poor decisions.
  • Signs of substance use.
  • Changes in behavior. 
  • Tardiness. 

If you notice these signs in your employee, talk to him or her. 

“Have a conversation. You don’t have to know the answer. Know the health and wellness benefits your company offers and share resources to get your employees the help they need,” she says. 

Share company health benefits 

BlueCross offers a range of mental health options, including alternative treatment options. Apps like Meru Health, Youturn, Blue CareOnDemandSM and NOCD let members access care from their smartphones. 

“Digital options easily fit into a member’s schedule and make mental health care more accessible,” Rock says. 

Make sure your employees are aware of their benefits. 

If your company has an employee assistance program (EAP), make sure your workers know about the benefits available to them through the EAP. Education is key to ensuring members know what resources are available to help.

Connect your employees to resources. BlueCross’ care management team helps members navigate health care. This team can point members to tools to improve care. These include things such as resources for affordable medications and programs to help with medical costs.

“We are one of the best-kept secrets,” Rock says. “We want to help members learn ways to cope with what is going on and to connect them with care. We help them find the right questions to ask their doctors.”  

The care management team reaches out to many members. However, BlueCross members can also call the number on the back of their insurance card to connect with resources. They can use My Health Toolkit® to access digital options for finding care. 


The World Health Organization is an independent organization that provides health information you may find helpful. Meru Health, YouTurn and NOCD are independent companies that offer apps to support mental health.

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