Workplace Mental Health – A Series – An Overview Of The Issue (This Is Important!)

The mind and the body are inseparable. And you do want to engage the whole employee in your worksite wellness program, right?

Most worksite wellness programs today are not really wellness programs at all – they are employee health status management programs. Why do I say this? Most worksite wellness programs focus solely on employee physical health, to the exclusion of all the other dimensions of wellness.

As conceived by the modern wellness field’s founders, (Robert Allen, Donald Ardell, Halbert Dunn, Bill Hettler and John Travis), wellness is a multi-dimensional concept. The published wellness model of the National Wellness Institute includes the following dimensions: physical, social, emotional, intellectual, occupational and spiritual.

Emotional well-being is associated with numerous benefits to health, family, work, and economic status. Positive emotions and view of life are associated with decreased risk for disease, illness, and injury; better immune functioning; better coping and quicker recovery; and increased longevity. In addition, mental health and mental illness may influence physical health and biologic functioning. Positive mental health is associated with better endocrine function (i.e., lower levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine) and better immune response (i.e., higher antibody production and greater resistance to illness). It has also been shown to be associated with longevity.

Researchers are continuing to learn more and more about the mind – body connection. It has been clearly shown that emotions play a huge role in our physical health. There is also a reciprocal relationship between many chronic diseases and mental health. Self-efficacy, goal-setting, and problem-solving enable self-management behaviors, and these components are dependent on emotional health. On the other hand, self-management behaviors that enhance health, such as physical activity and stress reduction, can improve mental health status and quality of life. In many ways, it makes no sense to address physical health without addressing emotional health at the same time.

The absence of mental illness does not mean the presence of mental health. Growing research supports the view that these are independent, but related dimensions. Mental wellbeing are characterized by the presence of positive affect (e.g., optimism, cheerfulness and interest), absence of negative affect, and satisfaction with life. On the other hand, mental illness is characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior associated with distress or impaired functioning.

Why Address Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace?

The health of the mind and body cannot be separated. What effects one influences the other. Therefore, a healthy mind supports and contributes to a healthy body and vice versa.

Mental illness costs employers money and mental health can impact productivity and employee performance. Just like physical health, mental health can be viewed as being a continuum. At one end there is mental health and mental illness is located at the opposite end.

Mental health generally refers to the successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships, and the ability to adapt to change and adversity. These domains are commonly referred to as wellbeing.

Mental illness includes diseases with classic psychiatric diagnoses, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Mental health and mental illness can be influenced by multiple determinants, including genetics and biology and their interactions with social and environmental factors.

Employers approach employee health through a multi-strategy framework. A multi-strategy framework can be applied to an employer approach to mental health as well. A comprehensive approach includes: promotion, prevention, intervention, and follow-up. It is important to recognize that mental health promotion needs to be equal in importance to the prevention and treatment of mental illness.

Today’s worksite wellness programs need to address all dimensions of employee wellness, not just physical health.

Addressing Total Employee Wellness

Employee mental health is a critical component of successful worksit

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Workplace Mental Health – A Series – Program Integration (Start Today!)

Good mental health is fundamental to maintaining good physical health. And you want your employees to experience total worker health, correct?

The fact that the mind and the body cannot be separated results in an inseparable relationship between physical and mental health. Despite the fact that the connections are striking, integration of the two fields in worksite wellness programming still has not occurred in any meaningful way. Worksite wellness practitioners need to better understand the connections between physical and mental health so they can intervene more effectively with employees to improve the outcomes in both areas.

It is important to address the integration of physical and mental health for the following reasons:

• The individual employee’s mental health status or the presence of a mental illness such as depression or anxiety can affect an individual’s ability to undertake health promoting behaviors that address their physical health status. It is therefore critical that individuals have a better understanding of the integral link between all aspects of their health.

• Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental health.

• An individual’s mental health status affects an individual’s ability to participate in their treatment and recovery from a chronic disease.

• Family members and caregivers of people with chronic diseases are also affected psychologically thereby potentially resulting in their neglecting their own health.

Integrating all aspects of health within a worksite wellness program requires partnerships and integration at multiple levels. Integration and partnerships allow the partners to leverage their strengths and resources and to work on common goals. Integration needs to occur at the program level, the policy level, between vendors and potentially between the employer and community based resources.

The elements necessary to support integration include:

• Making the business case through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data on the interrelationships between all aspects of employee health. The data should also show how integration and partnerships can better advance the employer’s core mission and objectives.

• Developing a champion at every level within the organization. While integration requires leadership and motivation from the top, it is best to have a champion at each level to initiate, implement, and sustain the integration.

• Forming an integration management working team to sustain the integration effort. The integration effort cannot be sustained if it is only the work of just a couple of people.

• Developing integrated interventions that are based on identified needs or gaps where positive outcomes and early wins can be achieved. Early on, look for interventions that are simple, targeted, and within the scope of the missions, resources, infrastructures, processes of the partners’ existing program initiatives.

• Monitor, measure and evaluate integrated initiatives by establishing goals, measures and collecting the appropriate data. Evaluation could include process, output and outcome types of evaluation strategies. They could include assessing improvements in access to and satisfaction with care, services, or programming, determining the effect of policy changes on outcomes or services, and making the case for cost-benefit and/or cost-effectiveness.

Programming is one of the key areas where integration can and should be implemented. The four levels we see for physical health programming can also be applied to other health areas as well. These are: awareness, education, lifestyle change and policy/environmental change.

The traditional core physical health programming topics have included physical activity, nutrition, sleep and stress management. These four core programming areas also have implications for mental health as well. This makes the leap to integrated programming real easy. Prevention and self-care activities are also areas where integration can be applied.

Good mental health is fundamental to maintaining good physical health. Ultimately, there is no health without mental health. A worksite wellness program is a necessary and ideal venue to support program integration.

Creating An Integrated Program Strategy

Since the mind and body cannot be separated, physical and mental health should not be addressed separately either. My unique background qualifies me to provide you the leadership necessary to implement integrated interventions

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