Recognizing mental health in the workplace

The United States is in a mental health crisis. Poor mental health has a big impact on workers at home and on the job. May is nationally recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month and has been since 1949. During this month, it is important to raise awareness on mental health disorders that workers may face every day as a result of poor work conditions.

Mental illness can affect people from all backgrounds and ages. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there were approximately 57.8 million adults suffering from mental illness in the U.S. in 2021. This indicates that approximately one in five U.S. adults live with mental illness. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 48,183 people died by suicide in the U.S. in 2021, illustrating that there is approximately one death every 11 minutes by suicide. These statistics signify that the U.S. is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis which needs to be dealt with at multiple levels, including in the workplace.

The United Steelworkers (USW) offers various resources for promoting mental health wellness as well as for responding to mental health crises. Within the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (TMC), resiliency training, opioid awareness training and disaster preparedness and response training are offered. In addition, the USW Emergency Response Team (ERT) has a 24-hour ERT hotline at 866-526-3480 that can help workers during a mental health crisis. The ERT website also has resources and tools for getting the help needed to fight addiction, as well as recognizing and dealing with traumatic stress. Lastly, the USW promotes the use of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s Disaster Distress Helpline which is available for individuals looking for someone to speak with in the aftermath of a human-made or natural disaster. This hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-985-5990, or by texting “TalkWithUs” to 66746.

Although mental illness affects workers in all industries, some sectors are at a high risk of developing mental health disorders due to the nature of the job. For example, health care workers are exposed to a wide variety of adverse events that can negatively impact mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor working conditions such as discrimination, inequality, excessive workloads, low job control and job insecurity pose a risk to mental health. Therefore, a safe and healthy work environment is a fundamental worker right that can protect and nurture mental health.

In addition to creating an overall safe and healthy work environment, training workers and employers can promote mental health. Manager training on this may include topics such as active listening skills, how to recognize mental distress, and proper response to mental health issues in the workplace. Mental health training for workers could focus on raising awareness on different types of mental health disorders and their symptoms, available resources internally and outside of the workplace, and may also help reduce the stigma around mental health in the work environment.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! Employers are required to have certain workplace policies that foster mental health among their workers. Some of the regulations that promote mental health in the workplace include the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There are also anti-discrimination laws in place to ensure that workers are not discriminated against due to mental illness.

Remember, under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), you have a right to a safe and heathy workplace, which includes mental health.

If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t wait to get help! Reach out now to a healthcare provider, resources within your community, or resources within your union.