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Why Employee Mental Health Should be Part of Your Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Strategy

Many organizations are prioritizing the implementation of effective diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) strategies to better support employees of diverse cultures and backgrounds. One DEIB strategy that is often overlooked is employee mental health, a fundamental part of people’s overall wellness. In fact, 45% of people who did not receive mental health care reported workplace issues. 

This is why it’s vital for employers to create a foundation to better understand and support the mental wellbeing of a diverse workforce and offer helpful tools and resources. 

The numbers don’t lie

Mental health challenges can affect everyone, but not always the same way. In fact:

• 4.8 million African American people reported having a mental illness; they are 20% more likely to report experiencing physiological distress, but 50% less likely to seek treatment.

  • • The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted women and girl caregivers, causing 78% to leave the workforce altogether to provide care.
  • 41% of transgender persons have attempted suicide at least once in their life.

Unmet mental health needs like these can impact an employee’s job performance, attendance, productivity, engagement, communication and physical capability at work.

Addressing barriers to care

Although someone may be experiencing a mental health concern, they may not always seek help. There are many barriers to care that can prevent someone from doing so, some that are outside a person’s control. For example, social determinants of health such as safe transportation, discrimination, income and literacy skills can contribute to someone’s quality of life and access to seeking appropriate help.

Another factor that may play a part is that many adults in the U.S. feel there is a lack of providers available to address cultural needs. According to the 2022 Access to Care Survey from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing: 

  • • 13% of adults who did not receive needed mental health care say it was because they could not find a provider who was a good cultural fit.
  • • 17% of those who did receive mental health care in the past 12 months say they struggled to get care because they were unable to find a provider who was a good cultural fit.
  • • 61% of U.S. adults feel that there are not enough mental health care providers who are trained to address issues specific to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. 

Workplace barriers to care can also include work/life balance and the ability for an employee to take time off from work to attend a doctor’s appointment or to take a sick or vacation day. In fact, 35 million workdays are lost each year due to mental illness.

#BeTheDifference for your employees

So, what can you do? Start by asking yourself and your leadership and HR teams these questions:

  • • What does your workforce look like? Where are there disparities in your workforce?
  • • How does our workplace culture foster diversity, equity and inclusion, and belonging?
  • • How are you engaging and receiving employee feedback regularly? Are you including feedback specifically from your diverse employees?
  • • Are your leadership and management teams prepared to talk about mental health and DEI workplace issues with employees?
  • • What employee benefits do you currently offer? Are these benefits culturally inclusive and accessible?
  • • What additional provider networks, tools or services can you offer to strength your mental health offerings?

The National Council’s Social Justice Leadership Academy (SJLA) workbook can help you assess where you, your organization and its services are when it comes to embedding principles of social justice and equity into mental health and substance use treatment.

And, for organizations looking for ways to get more directly involved, consider offering Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) at Work training in your workplace. This training program teaches participants how to notice and support an individual who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use concern or crisis in a work environment and connect them with appropriate employee and community resources. 

To learn more about MHFA at Work, visit MHFA.org/workplace or email MHFAatWork@TheNationalCouncil.org. 

Learn more about how you can support your employees’ mental wellbeing:

References

Mental Health First Aid. (2022, Feb. 20). Mental Health First Aid for Workplace. Mental Health First Aid. https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/population-focused-modules/workplace. 

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (n.d.). Social determinants of health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/healthypeople/priority-areas/social-determinants-health.

SAMHSA. 2018 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases. (2018). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/release/2018-national-survey-drug-use-and-health-nsduh-releases.

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing. (2022, May 11). 2022 access to care survey results. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing. https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/2022-Access-To-Care-Survey-Results.pdf. 

University of Pittsburgh. (2020, July). Effects of COVID-19 on family caregivers. University of Pittsburgh Center for Social & Urban Research. https://ucsur.pitt.edu/files/center/covid19_cg/COVID19_Full_Report_Final.pdf. 

Virupaksha, H.G.; Muralidhar, D.; and Ramakrishna, J. (2015, Nov.) Suicide and suicidal behavior among transgender persons. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5178031/.

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