Today MHANYS sent a letter to Governor Cuomo and the leadership of the NYS Office of Mental Health and Department of Labor, urging support for greater public awareness about mental health to New York State’s workforce. The attached recommendations include increased signage about signs and symptoms related to mental health that should be posted in businesses across New York State similar to the OSHA workforce safety plan posters. In addition, we are urging support for the NYS Office of Mental Health and NYS Department of Labor to create a portal that provides resources and guidance in regard to mental health for employees.
Governor Cuomo has spoken a great deal about the impact of mental health during COVID. The creation of an emotional support line and the addition of other resources have been very helpful to all New Yorkers. These minimal cost recommendations will provide additional public awareness resources about mental health to employees across New York State.
The mental health impact of COVID has taken a toll on much of the population. We knew this anecdotally but the recent statistics from the CDC confirm that the pandemic has created a mental health crisis. These common sense recommendations will help provide support to New York’s workforce with minimal financial impact.
August 28, 2020
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo:
I’m writing to you on behalf of the Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc. (MHANYS) regarding a need in New York for increased mental health awareness in places of employment throughout our great state.
Historically, clear communication in the workplace about the mental health rights of employees and information about the availability of mental health resources has been lacking. Because of COVID-19 and its associated impact on the mental health of so many, this information is needed more than ever. MHANYS is heartened by the Administration’s recognition and leadership around this reality as evidenced by the establishment of the COVID-19 Emotional Support Hotline, Tips for Mental Wellness and the listing of mental health resources.
Thank you for considering MHANYS’ proposals for enhancing workplace wellness in New York. We are confident that these steps, if taken, will increase mental health literacy and awareness among employers and employees. This will result in the reduction of stigma and an increase in employee help-seeking behavior when needed. In light of the mental health toll taken by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no better time than the present to be taking these types of steps in workplaces throughout New York.
Mental Health Information and Resources in the Workplace
Proposal from the Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.
Although not always as visible as other illnesses, mental health conditions contribute substantially to worldwide disability, unemployment, underemployment, and compromised job performance. This is especially true when illnesses remain undetected among employees and/or unacknowledged by employers. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, employee mental health and substance use disorders cost U.S. employers between $80 billion and $100 billion per year.
Federal statutes such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide certain protections for people with disabilities, both physical and mental, but there is often confusion in the workplace about how these laws apply to people with psychiatric disabilities. A good example is the application of the reasonable accommodations standard to people with mental illnesses. Accommodating the needs of people with mental illnesses is not as intuitive as accommodations for individuals with physical disabilities, like installing wheelchair ramps, for example. All too often, employers and employees aren’t even aware that the reasonable accommodations provision also applies to people with mental illness, much less how the standard can be applied.
Unfortunately, there is still a significant level of mental health stigma reflected in the workplace. Stigma is often rooted in a lack of knowledge about mental health and in the workplace specifically, a lack of acknowledgment or clearly articulated policies about mental health. One study found that a majority of employees—68 percent—worry that reaching out about a mental health issue could negatively impact their job security. Although 50 percent of employees overall (and 60 percent of Millennial employees) reported having had a mental health condition, only one-third of those employees reached out to their employer.[i] Another study found that 58 percent of employees who have received a diagnosis of a depressive disorder have not disclosed to their employers, 49 percent of which have not disclosed due to fear of losing their job.[ii]
While workplaces across New York make policies and best practices regarding physical health issues and accommodations clear, similar practices do not exist for mental health. Among small businesses without Human Resource departments in particular, many employers are unsure of the best practices regarding employee mental health and wellness. Creating a workplace culture of acceptance of mental health, standardized best practices across departments and different labor industries, and creating a nexus between New York State Departments of Mental Health and Departments of Labor will provide greater access to mental health resources and workplace support. Encouraging parity between physical and mental health, the presence of mental health information and resources in the workplace will work to prevent stigma around mental health issues while providing necessary resources encouraging proactive and positive mental health.
MHANYS recommends two actions that have the potential to immediately contribute to workplace mental health literacy, awareness, stigma reduction, healthy habits of self-care, and the pursuit of professional care when needed. The actions are as follows:
- Mental health postings in the workplace: MHANYS recommends a requirement that businesses have a poster/message at some location in their place of business from either SAMHSA or the New York State Office for Mental Health regarding stigma associate with mental health and mental health issues, what the signs and symptoms are, and resources/hotlines in order to get help. There are several of these posters listed on the New York State Department of Labor website, similar to an OSHA workplace safety poster. Postings regarding mental health resources and options should also be available to employees. Requiring businesses in New York State to implement a form of posting regarding mental health resources would help reduce stigma regarding mental health in the workplace and encourage employee pursuit of professional and self-help options for recovery and management.
- Voluntary guidelines in the workplace: This proposal is based on the 2018 California law (SB1113) which, if applied in New York, would authorize/require the NYS Department of Labor and/or NYS Office of Mental Health to create voluntary guidelines regarding mental health in the workplace for businesses. This would include, but would not be limited to, a workplace portal with resources and guidelines included in an employee handbook, posters, written/digital resources for workplace mental health, and guidelines regarding best practices for businesses.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these recommendations are more important than ever. A number of studies are already showing the impact of the pandemic on Americans and workers in particular. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Harvard Medical School reported in May that 55% of people were more stressed than in January 2020. The Pew Research Center, found that 73% of Americans reported feeling anxious at least a few days a week in the wake of COVID-19. And one more survey found that 70% of Americans reported experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety on at least several days over a period of two weeks at the end of March 2020.[iii]
It is imperative that workplaces are prepared to play a role in enhancing mental health awareness and overall mental health literacy with an emphasis on employee rights. Ultimately, these measures will contribute to a culture of wellness in the workplace that includes both physical and mental health. There will be an increase in mental health literacy, the reduction of stigma, and most importantly, an increase in employee help-seeking behavior. Employers can play a critical role in shaping this culture of wellness.
[i]According to a 2019 study by Businessolver, a West Des Moines, Iowa-based health benefits administrator. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/mental-illness-and-the-workplace.aspx
[ii] IDEA Survey U.S. Executive Summary. Impact of Depression at Work: U.S. Report. Ipsos. July 2014