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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is mental health awareness month graphic

Quick Look: Mental health assistance is one of the most requested employee benefits. This isn’t surprising, as navigating a global pandemic has taken its toll on everyone. Employers have been tasked with finding new ways to keep their employees safe, informed, and engaged, while employees have struggled to balance work and home responsibilities during a time of great instability. As we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, creating a healthy workplace that prioritizes mental wellness has never been more important.

Let’s get real. Talking about mental health isn’t always a comfortable conversation, but it doesn’t have to be taboo either. While the pandemic wreaked havoc on nearly every inch of our lives, it also created an unexpected opportunity for more open and supportive dialogue about mental health in the workplace. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportune time for employers to promote knowledge, foster a culture of mental wellness, and to break the stigma around mental health.

Here we’ll look at the history of Mental Health Awareness Month, tips to promote mental wellness in your organization, and how partnering with a professional employer organization (PEO) can provide your business with comprehensive and cost-effective mental wellness benefits and programs.

About Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 1949 by Mental Health America (MHA), the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness. In the wake of the Great Depression and two world wars, people were finally beginning to focus on what used to be called “mental hygiene” and legislation and healthcare facilities began to advocate for mental wellness.

This year, the theme of MHA’s 2022 Mental Health Awareness Month is “Back to Basics” with a goal of providing foundational knowledge about mental health, mental health conditions, and information about what people can do if their mental health is a cause for concern.

Mental health and wellness in the workplace

According to Center for Disease Control (CDC), depression causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays each year at the cost of $17 billion to $44 billion to employers. Further, the latest Gallup State of the Global Workplace report shows that U.S. workers are some of the most stressed employees in the world. 57% of U.S. workers reported feeling stressed daily, compared to 43% of people who feel that way globally.

Poor mental health and stress can negatively impact your employees in countless ways:

  • Reduced job performance
  • Lack of workplace engagement
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Physical capability and daily functioning

Poor employee mental health can also impact your bottom line. Consider these statistics:

But conversely, data also shows that for every $1 spent on treating mental health, there is a return of $4 in improved health and efficiency—further demonstrating that happy employees are productive employees. It’s been proven that fostering an organizational culture of positive mental health can reduce healthcare costs, augment productivity, increase employee retention, enhance critical thinking skills, and boost employee morale.

The federal government is also increasing efforts to raise awareness of mental wellness in the workplace. The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide coverage for mental health, behavioral health, and substance-use disorders that is equal to physical care coverage. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) revealed its new public education campaign highlighting the importance of mental health-friendly workplaces. “Mental Health at Work: What Can I Do?” promotes healthy workplaces nationwide and helps employers understand the benefits of good mental health among employees as well as their role in making that happen.

Given the surge of stress and anxiety, the demand from current and potential employees, and the fierce competition for workers—now is the time for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to offer support for mental wellness.

A PEO like ExtensisHR can help.

What can employers do to take action?

One in five adults have reported experiencing a mental health condition – that’s almost 20% of the American workforce and a number that likely includes some of your own employees. Company leadership should show compassion and knowledge of the stressors that lead to mental illness in the workplace, and let employees know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. And while it’s up to employers to set the tone for how mental health is addressed in the workplace, the HR experts at a PEO can help.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey revealed that almost 40% of employers have updated their health plans since the start of the pandemic to include mental health services. Many of these employers are turning to a PEO partner for guidance on how to improve access to care. Working with a PEO opens the door to easy and cost-effective voluntary and employee benefit services that attract candidates and keeps current employees happy. In fact, a survey conducted by Calm revealed 76% of workers consider mental health benefits critical when evaluating a new job.

With that in mind, here are several ways SMBs can support employee mental health, including key mental health benefits today’s workers are looking for.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, is “a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee’s performance.” Employees can leverage an EAP to confidentially discuss and address mental health topics like depression, grief, loss, family, marital, and other relationship issues, or stress and anxiety. An EAP also offers a variety of other services, including addressing financial and legal concerns, identify theft and fraud resolution, and caregiving resources.


The use of telehealth has rapidly grown since 2020 and many providers have expanded offerings to accommodate more employees wishing to seek nonemergency care from the comfort of their homes. A McKinsey study reported that telehealth adoption now accounts for up to 17% of outpatient/office visit claims—almost 40% higher than pre-pandemic rates. Telehealth services are also making virtual therapy sessions available. Employers can consider adding telehealth services to their benefit offerings to give workers quick, convenient access to mental health providers. And since many telehealth services are now included in standard plans, the convenience of virtual health usually comes at minimal, or no extra cost for employers.

Digital solutions

Telehealth isn’t the only digital tool available to address mental wellbeing. Many health plans now include employer-covered subscription costs for relaxation and meditation mobile apps, therapy sessions, or at-home workouts. Younger workers, like millennials and Gen Zers who have grown up in the digital age, are used to leveraging virtual and mobile platforms. Digital tools and platforms are making mental healthcare more affordable and convenient than ever before, and access to these types of health benefits allow workers to maintain the right headspace to do their best work.

In-office wellness spaces

Whether it’s workplace stresses or other factors at play, employees’ personal needs can’t always wait until the end of the workday. One trend growing in popularity to address this is the corporate wellness space. A wellness space is a specialized room available for mindfulness, meditation, and other spiritual exercises. Adding a dedicated wellness room to your office demonstrates to employees that even during a challenging day, they can find a private space to work through their needs. Consider adding a comfortable couch, lounger, or chairs, as well as gentle lighting with dimmer switches (migraines and light sensitivity-causing headaches are a primary use of wellness rooms).

Flexibility and work-life balance

One of the most sought-after perks for job seekers today are flexible work schedules. Hybrid working is here to stay and policies that support mental health awareness will become more important. Creating a work environment that encourages people to set reasonable work hours, prioritizes sleep and physical health, and gives employees options over where and how they work helps boost workplace morale and can be an extremely valuable recruiting tool. Not offering some type of flex scheduling can make it extremely difficult to recruit and retain top talent in today’s world.

In addition to adding mental health coverage and programs into an employee benefit plan, employers can also consider initiatives like stress awareness days, free mental health screenings, fitness challenges, and educational lunch and learns. These activities can go a long way toward improving workplace culture.

A small conversation about mental health can make a big difference

Employers play a pivotal role in supporting employee mental health and safety—but they don’t have to do it alone. The HR experts at a PEO can offer guidance and help SMBs revise existing healthcare plans to include mental wellness benefits, proactively address mental health with resources and events, and create a culture of transparency where employees can openly discuss their well-being.

Investing in your people is an investment in your business, too. Recruiting and retaining top talent, increased productivity, and higher morale are all big boosts to your bottom line and can help build a more resilient organization.

It’s never too late to create a forum for discussion and proactively transform your workplace wellness programs. Contact us today and learn how ExtensisHR can help ramp up your mental health efforts.

The content of this article and other material contained on the ExtensisHR website are for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical or professional advice. If you, or someone you know is in crisis call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).

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