For many of us, the lines between work and home are now blurred. We’ve set up offices in bedrooms and basements; we’re juggling video conferences with virtual-learning schedules; we’re multi-tasking deadlines with check-ins on friends and loved ones; and we’re doing all this with many additional worries on our minds. The workplace may look very different than it did a few months ago, but workplace mental health is more important now than ever.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are experiencing uncertainty, stress and fear. Surveys show that the outbreak is having a significant impact on people’s mental health. Even before the outbreak, mental illnesses like depression had a significant effect on people and workplaces. Worldwide, more than 264 million people experience depression, and it is a leading cause of disability. In the United States, about 7 percent of full-time workers experience major depression, and depression is estimated to cause 200 million missed workdays each year. Despite its wide prevalence, many employees never seek treatment for depression, and stigma around mental illness prevents many people from speaking openly about their emotional health.
At Lundbeck, mental health is a core focus, and we are committed to reducing stigma and improving access to care. As the only global biopharmaceutical company solely focused on brain diseases, we strive to create a stigma-free workplace and foster an environment where our colleagues feel comfortable discussing their own mental health. For example, over the course of this pandemic, we are offering a variety of virtual mental health programming to our colleagues. We are also extending support available through our employee assistance program and have been encouraging people to take breaks and make time for the activities that might bring them a few minutes of relief during this difficult time.
We are committed to these efforts because we understand that employers can play a key role in removing barriers to treatment and encouraging people to seek help. We further demonstrate this commitment as a founding financial supporter of Right Direction, a unique educational initiative that calls attention to depression in the workplace and helps companies meet the mental health needs of their employees. Right Direction is an effort of Employers Health Coalition and the Center for Workplace Mental Health (a program of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation). It is designed to motivate employees and their families to seek help when needed, and it provides employers with a variety of tools and resources.
The Right Direction website went live five years ago but is relaunching this month with new resources and a refreshed look and feel. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month and increasing focus on the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, now is an important time to build awareness about depression and encourage help-seeking behavior. The new Right Direction website provides employers with guidance to address depression and well-being in this challenging environment, and it provides employees a variety of educational materials to help identify the signs of depression and reach out for help. Among the new resources are tips for self-care while working remotely during COVID-19.
We may not see the full mental health impacts of the pandemic for months or even years to come, but that is all the more reason to focus on mental health in the workplace now. Installing support systems and fostering openness around mental health issues can help make our “new normal” one that prioritizes mental health. Supporting the emotional health of our colleagues will help us persevere and maintain our balance during this immediate crisis, and it will make us stronger, more successful workplaces in the long run. As employers, we owe this to our employees; and as human beings with emotions and resolve tested and tried by this pandemic, we owe this to one another.