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.

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