The Great Debate About Employee Mental Health Is Taking Shape
A couple of years ago, there was the Great Worksite Wellness Debate. The debate question then was: Is worksite wellness a success or a failure?
Vendors and worksite wellness practitioners have essentially dealt with this question by abandoning the term wellness for the term wellbeing. My colleagues who yesterday were worksite wellness professionals, today are worksite wellbeing professionals. But here is the funny thing… Wellness and wellbeing are essentially the same thing. They are synonyms. The words can be used interchangeably.
Now a new debate is shaping up. This debate surrounds the concept of mental health. Is mental health just a code word or dog whistle for mental illness, or is mental health a much broader concept that also includes mental illness?
The answer of course, depends upon who you talk to. For the average person, mental health is a proxy term or dog whistle for mental illness. Just as wellness was used when the focus of employer programs was only on the physical health of employees and not the broader concept of wellness, the term mental health is being used when the discussion is actually about mental illness or mental ill-health. Using the term mental health avoids all of the stigmas associated with mental illness.
Academic research considers mental health to be everything associated with mental health, except for mental illness. And then there are those of us who view mental health as being an umbrella like term which encompasses mental wellness or positive mental health, psychological/psychosocial distress and mental illness.
The Great Mental Health Debate will actually be about many aspects of mental health, but it will be first about the nature of mental health. Is mental health only mental illness, or does mental health include other issues in addition to mental illness?
Why does this really matter? It matters because how the employer views mental health will determine how the employer seeks to address workplace mental health issues.
Will the employer focus only on supporting treatment for mental illness or will the employer address mental wellness and psychological/psychosocial distress as well as supporting treatment for mental illness and substance abuse? The solutions offered by the employer must be aligned with the mental health intent and philosophy of the employer.
Promoting mental wellness is very different from preventing and supporting treatment for mental illness. The wise employer today will do all three: promote, prevent and support treatment.