Originally published on KSL.com

For large and small businesses alike, happy employees are just good business. Unfortunately, mental health in the United States has been steadily worsening for many years—even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Mental Health America, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness in 2017-2018, with suicide ideation among adults ever increasing.

While the mental health crisis is troubling on many levels, it's also costly for employers. The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. What's more, for every $1 invested in employee mental health, there's a $4 return in improved health and productivity.

Employers hoping to support employee mental health while bolstering performance can take several steps now.

Create a positive mental fitness culture

When it comes to mental health, the stigma is real, and employees are looking to businesses to break it. According to Harvard Business Review, more than 86% of survey respondents wanted a company culture that supported mental health, while less than half felt that mental health was actually prioritized at their companies.

For large and small businesses alike, happy employees are just good business. Unfortunately, mental health in the United States has been steadily worsening for many years—even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Mental Health America, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness in 2017-2018, with suicide ideation among adults ever increasing.

While the mental health crisis is troubling on many levels, it's also costly for employers. The World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. What's more, for every $1 invested in employee mental health, there's a $4 return in improved health and productivity.

Employers hoping to support employee mental health while bolstering performance can take several steps now.

Create a positive mental fitness culture

When it comes to mental health, the stigma is real, and employees are looking to businesses to break it. According to Harvard Business Review, more than 86% of survey respondents wanted a company culture that supported mental health, while less than half felt that mental health was actually prioritized at their companies.

Train for the difficult conversations

One of the keys to preventing suicide and other mental health crises, as well as bolstering a general culture of mental fitness, is recognizing warning signs and referring those at risk or struggling to appropriate professionals. Having those conversations—or recognizing warning signs—can be difficult without proper training.

Businesses should ensure their leaders and managers are trained to have difficult conversations that save lives and improve quality of life and quality of work. Many programs, including QPR trainingMental Health First Aid and SafeTalk can assist you in training managers and others to recognize when an employee may need help.

Incentivize engagement

Company culture doesn't change overnight, but it can evolve faster when employees are invested in the evolution. That's why it may be helpful for businesses to incentivize their staff's engagement in mental fitness programs and exercises. Acknowledge and reward employees who complete self-screening tools, attend lunch-and-learns on mental fitness-related topics or complete mental fitness support training programs. As more staff participates in company-sponsored mental fitness programs, culture naturally evolves—and so does the business.

Provide mental health and substance abuse checkup tools

These days, people are accustomed to employers that promote yearly health screenings and checkups—and provide health plans that cover them. Businesses should take that a step further by providing regular mental health and substance abuse/misuse screening tools as part of an overall wellness plan.

Screenings are a great way to help employees catch an emerging health crisis while providing educational information along the way that promotes open conversations about mental health and fitness.

Promote mental health crisis resources

Businesses can encourage employees who may be experiencing a mental health crisis to seek professional help by posting and promoting those resources around offices, break rooms and on employee intranets. Resources may include the Utah Crisis LineNational Suicide Prevention LifelineSafeUT AppCrisis Text Line 741741 or any crisis services offered by your employee assistance program.

For more information on supporting the mental fitness of your workforce, Utah Community Builders, the nonprofit social impact foundation of the Salt Lake Chamber, provides a comprehensive toolkit to help you get started. Visit the Workforce Resilience Through Mental Fitness webpage for more information.