AHA releases report about mental wellbeing in the workplace

The American Heart Association released a comprehensive report Dec. 12 focused on mental health in the workplace—an issue the organization wants employers in the U.S. to tackle head-on.

The 125-page document, titled “Mental Health: A Workforce Crisis,” was commissioned by the AHA’s CEO Roundtable and conducted by the association’s Center for Workplace Health Research and Evaluation “to underscore the business imperative to employers for providing comprehensive, science-based support for employee mental health.” The report was co-signed by AHA CEO Nancy Brown, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky and Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.

“A supportive and healthy workplace culture starts at the top,” Brown said in a release. “As leaders, it’s our responsibility to set the tone and prioritize mental health on the same level and with the same laser focus as physical health. That means, whether people need prescription glasses or psychological services, they are treated the same and not made to feel ashamed.”

The number of employees with mental health difficulties continues to inflate, with global rates of depression and anxiety jumping between 15 and 20 percent over the last decade, according to the report. Depression alone costs the U.S. economy some $210 billion annually, and around half of that cost is shouldered by employers since depression and anxiety can negatively impact a worker’s productivity and performance.

The AHA’s report highlights the connection between mental health and a host of cardiovascular comorbidities, including established links between depression and heart disease, obesity and diabetes. It states around one in five people with heart disease also struggle with depression, and depression is three times more common in patients after they’ve had a heart attack.

Diabetics—who make up roughly 4.6 percent of the U.S. population—also see higher rates of depression. The report states 12 percent of diabetics are depressed, though two-thirds don’t seek treatment. Obesity, as well, increases a person’s likelihood of depression.

The AHA wrote addressing employees’ mental health makes good business sense, too. The report stated evidence-based treatments can save $2 to $4 for every dollar invested in early intervention and preventive strategies, like making sure workers have a manageable workload, can participate in decision-making and feel safe and supported.

“Like chronic diseases, mental health disorders are treatable, and employers can use comprehensive strategies to cultivate supportive work environments,” Brown, Gorsky and Moynihan wrote. “We cannot afford to let social stigma and discrimination hinder an individual’s ability to achieve optimum health and employment.”