The state of mental health equity at work

Workplace mental health advocate Natasha Bowman, JD, SPHR speaks with Carol Harrison, President + Senior Partner at Global Gateway Advisors

May 30, 2024

The escalating mental health crisis impacts all of us in different ways.

  • Mental health is the chief health concern among U.S. adults, surpassing cancer, stress, obesity, and drug abuse.

  • But the U.S. is not alone. It is part of a global trend. Across 31 countries recently polled, an average of 44% said that mental health was their country’s top health concern.

Why it matters: Work amplifies broader societal issues that negatively affect mental health, especially among diverse communities, including discrimination and inequality. Yet, stigma and shame remain around discussing or disclosing mental health in work settings. Prioritizing mental health equity for employees is a critical forward-looking talent strategy.

Go deeper: During Mental Health Month, Global Gateway Advisors and CommPro convened a group of business, government and advocacy leaders to exchange ideas about how to address mental health equity in the workplace. The event featured special guest and workplace mental health advocate, Natasha Bowman, JD, SPHR.

Here are our key takeaways.

1. Mental health is essential to thriving workplaces.

By the numbers:

  • One in five employees globally manage a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year.

  • One in three U.S. workers said their jobs had a somewhat negative or extremely negative impact on their mental health.

  • Poor mental health at work can contribute to a decline in productivity, toxic workplace culture, higher rates of attrition and economic loss.

  • Mental health issues cost the US economy $47.6 billion annually in lost productivity (up to 12 unplanned absences a year).

What they’re saying:

  • “If your employees are mentally happy, they will stay longer, they will work better. We must think about mental health as an investment in our organizations.” – Jackson Budinger, Senior Director of Communications, Trevor Project

2. There is no one size fits all solution.

Every employee has unique experiences and identities that shape their perspective and affect how they approach mental health.

Employees experience significantly better mental health and engagement outcomes when their unique social identities are acknowledged and supported.

  • 34% of employees aged 18-29 and 28% of employees 30-49 reported that they considered quitting work due to the impact on mental health. Only 21% of employees aged 50-64 said the same.

  • Neurodivergent, LGBTQIA+ and Hispanic employees want more preventative support when it comes to their mental health.

  • Only one in three Black adults in the United States who need mental health care actually receive it.

What they’re saying:

  • “We are all on different mental health journeys. Creative and flexible accommodations empower employees to manage their mental health and wellbeing – and show up effectively at work.” – Natasha Bowman

  • “Carefully look at the composition of your team. For generation Alpha, it is easier to talk about mental health than Boomers. If you have a team with more Hispanic men, it will be tougher to talk about mental health, because it is not a part of their cultural ethos. It’s important to have a bespoke approach because people have different generational and cultural challenges.” – Event participant

3. Lack of communication and stigma stand in the way.

By the numbers:

  • 74% of full-time employees in the US say it is appropriate to discuss mental health concerns at work, yet only 58% say they feel comfortable.

  • 79% say that their work experience would be better if their leaders communicated they care about mental wellbeing.

What they’re saying:

  • “As I started to share my experience navigating bipolar disorder, one of the common themes I heard from people is that they thought I was brave and courageous to share my story. Many said they wanted to, but were afraid of what their employer would say. The stigma surrounding mental health at work prevents people from talking about it at all.” – Natasha Bowman 

4. Strategic communications can improve mental health and foster thriving workplaces.

Measure mental health. In the same way employers measure employee engagement, they can also measure employees’ mental health at work. Data can reveal how mental health impacts employees differently depending on where they’re based, their socio-cultural background and other demographics.

  • Using data and insights, employers can define what resources are needed – and how communications can help point employees to the right support.

Engage leadership to break down stigma through storytelling. When a senior leader opens up about their experiences with mental health, it can make employees with shared experiences feel seen and heard.

  • As Carmella Glover, Vice President, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Page Society, said: “It takes one brave person and their story to move people and create a safe space. There is power in storytelling, so people know they are not alone.”

Provide clear, actionable messaging around mental health. “We need a ‘stop, drop, and roll’ for the steps to take when someone in your life needs you. This is one of the important communications challenges in mental health equity,” said Erika Soto Lamb, Vice President, Social Impact Strategy at Showtime/MTV Entertainment Studios at Paramount Global. “That’s why we partnered with Active Minds to launch a.s.k, or acknowledge, support, keep-in-touch.

  • Through creative messaging and employee engagement strategies, we can make resources more accessible to employees and provide actionable guidance for what to do when support is needed.

Ensure that conversations around mental health are inclusive of all backgrounds, cultures, abilities and perspectives.

  • “A person may need mental health Tuesday instead of Friday,” said Natasha Bowman. “Off-the-shelf policies do not work because they’re inflexible and not inclusive.”

  • The same goes for communications. As we shape communications to advance mental health equity at work, it is important to bring diverse stakeholders to the table, amplify stories that demonstrate the wide array of experiences a person can have with their mental health, and showcase how resources and solutions can be tailored to support employees’ unique needs.

Want to continue the conversation? Connect with Global Gateway Advisors on LinkedIn or get in touch via our website.