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Mental health must be considered as part of a total well-being strategy

Published by: LifeWorks,

One of the leading causes of disability in the world is a quiet, often overlooked condition. It’s neither visible nor something most people feel comfortable discussing. But it is likely hurting employee well-being in every workplace.

According to research from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), depression is the most common disability in the world. Generally speaking, mental health conditions are widely ignored — nearly three of four people living with a mental health disorder remain untreated, the ADAA research found.

With the recent high-profile suicides involving Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, more people are talking about how important it is to seek treatment for mental health conditions.

When we talk about health, we can’t just focus on heart, liver or brain health. We have to look at total health and well-being and see the whole person and make use of tools and resources that benefit both mind and body.


While everyone knows the effect nutrition has on the physical body, the link between gut health and mental health is often overlooked. Your diet directly links to the hippocampus — the area in your brain that influences learning, memory, and mental health.

In fact, research suggests that food helps treat common mental health conditions. A 2017 research study published in BMC Medicine found that dietary improvements are effective in treating those who experience major depression.

Showing your staff how to improve their eating habits can directly improve employee well-being, in terms of both physical and mental health.

Tip: Host live cooking demonstrations with a nutritionist during the team’s lunch hour. Employees can participate by helping with basic meal prep and asking questions.

Google, for example, offers free cooking classes to their employees in some U.S. offices. These classes cover many styles of cooking and are great for team building.


Exercise is another vital aspect of improving employee well-being. Not only does exercise help your staff manage their weight and improve their physical wellness, but also it provides many mental health benefits.

Physical exertion increases substances like dopamine, endorphins, and BDNF to reduce stress, improve mood, and regulate depression-like behaviors. Regular exercise provides relief over time, and it can even prevent mental health conditions.

In fact, a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found a link between depression and exercise. Those who said they didn’t exercise at the start of the 11-year study were 44 percent more likely to develop depression, compared to those who exercised a minimum of one to two hours per week.

Tip: Start exercise groups in your workplace tailored to specific fitness goals, like weight loss and strength training. This way, employees can hold each other accountable and provide peer support.

These offerings are increasingly popular with employees. In fact, according to our March 2018 survey, fitness challenges came out on top as the physical wellness initiative employees were most interested in.

Sleep hygiene

Just as poor sleep increases the likelihood of health risks like depression, a good night’s sleep can have a positive impact on mental health.

A 2017 study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that participants who underwent an online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program as treatment, which included keeping a sleep diary, saw major improvements. These included less insomnia, less paranoia, and decreased levels of anxiety and depression.

Tip: Designate a quiet space in your workplace where employees can retreat to relax and recharge. Keep the lights low and soundproof the room, if possible, so they can escape the hustle of the workday.

Our March survey found employees want access to relaxation rooms. Encouraging rest and workday naps has a positive impact on performance. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep Health Index found allowing employees to take a 20 to 30 minute nap during the day boosts productivity.

Stress management

Some stress is normal, but when it becomes chronic and unmanaged, it can be debilitating. This not only hurts employee well-being, but also costs employers a lot in lost productivity.

The 2017 Mind the Workplace report from Mental Health America found that 33 percent of workers said they always, often, or sometimes missed work because of stress. More than half (53 percent) of those who said ‘always or often’ missed six or more days a month.

To put it simply, you can’t afford to ignore stress and its effect on employee well-being.

Tip: Employees ranked stress management training as another top wellness initiative they’re most interested in, according to our March survey.

Create a stress management program that covers a new kind of stressor every month. For example, focus on financial stress one month, relationships the next, and career obstacles another month. The key here is to provide actionable stress management strategies employees can use in their daily lives, both in and out of the workplace.

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