Defeating the workplace mental health stigma



Untreated mental illness costs US economy $200 billion per year



Employers increasingly provide workers with programs and incentives to improve their physical health, but they sometimes forget to address workforce mental health issues, according to Mary Giliberti, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), based in Arlington, Va. Giliberti was in Greenville last week to give a luncheon talk at the Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health.

Workers with untreated depression and other mental illness cost the U.S. economy around $200 billion per year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Employers can see the impact of untreated mental health problems in the direct costs of medical and mental health care, pharmacy costs and disabilities. Indirect costs include lost productivity, absenteeism and increased sick days. There are additional costs to business recruitment, hiring and retraining costs, Giliberti says.

“Those kinds of indirect costs can arise when someone is dealing with a mental health condition like anxiety, depression and other conditions,” she says.

NAMI CEO Mary Gillberti

NAMI CEO Mary Gillberti

One solution is for companies’ employee assistance programs (EAPs) to do a better job of publicizing mental health services like counseling to the workforce. Also, managers and supervisors should be trained to identify worker issues related to mental illness and to address these by referring workers to EAP, Giliberti suggests.

“We encourage employers to provide general education in the workplace to help people get help,” Giliberti says. “Sometimes people don’t recognize they have a mental health condition, or sometimes they do recognize the problem, but feel shame and stigma and refrain from getting treatment for those reasons.”

For example, one business had a worker who started to return late from lunch. The employee was about to lose his job over tardiness when his manager confronted him. It turned out the worker was using his lunch hour to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting across town and was too ashamed to share what he was doing. Once the manager knew what was going on, the worker’s shift was changed slightly to give the employee time to return to work, Giliberti says.

Some employers hold lunch-and-learn programs where an expert talks about how mental health problems affect individuals and their families. They also might put up posters with mental health tips around the workplace.

Greenville employers have an opportunity in May, which is the national Mental Health Month, to participate in Greenville NAMI’s 5K walk, on May 21 at Furman University, Giliberti notes.

“That’s an employee engagement activity where employers could get a walk team together,” she says. “Doing the mental health walk sends the message to employees that these issues are as important as other health care needs.”



The Greenville National Alliance on Mental Illness hosts the 14th Annual NAMIWalks Upstate South Carolina to raise awareness and funds for mental health education and support.

Who: Employers can sponsor a team

When: Saturday, May 21, 9 a.m. registration, 10 a.m. walk

Where: Furman University, Timmons Arena

More info: 864-331-3300;



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