Ultimate Guide to Mental Health in the Workplace



Improving mental health in the workplace is increasingly important for a business’ success, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers and employees can work together to cultivate healthy workspaces. If you are struggling with a mental illness, there are steps you can take and treatment available to create a better life at home and in the office.

Mental Health Statistics

Mental health disorders affect many people throughout the United States. Almost 1 in 5 adults over the age of 18 reported having a mental illness in 2016. That equates to 18.3% of the adult population or 44.7 million people in the US. Additionally, 71% of US adults reported experiencing at least one symptom of stress that year.1

Many individuals who have a mental illness also experience other health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illness, and other disorders that require treatment. The cost of treating co-occurring illnesses is 2 to 3 times higher than treating one illness. The combination of medical and behavioral health care services could save the United States billions of dollars. 1

The workplace is a great place to host activities that improve adult wellbeing, as almost 63% of Americans make up the US workforce. Wellness programs can identify employees at risk for mental health disorders and help connect them to proper treatment and support. Employers can benefit from addressing mental health issues, reducing healthcare costs for the business and employees. 1

Effects of Covid-19 on Mental Health in the Workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new set of challenges for mental health and workplace operations. These challenges mean it is increasingly important to focus on mental health and wellbeing in the workspace and find new ways to do so. 2

Almost everyone is experiencing a disruption in their regular routines and activities, which can cause more anxiety and stress than usual. Many individuals work from home for the first time and cannot physically interact with coworkers, friends, or family. This physical separation can cause even more anxiety and stress. 2

Those who are still working, whether from home or in the office, are experiencing new and unexpected mental health challenges. The necessity for support is at an all-time high, and employers may be recognizing the importance of implementing programs to enhance their employees’ mental wellbeing. 3

The pandemic has created a massive increase in depression, anxiety, and the misuse of alcohol and other substances. These mental health issues can cause businesses to suffer due to their employees’ decreased productivity and increased accidents at work 3

Mental Health Affects the Workplace Infographic — Socal Empowered

How Mental Health Affects Business and Employees

When an employee experiences poor mental health and stress, this can negatively impact their: 1
  • Job performance and productivity
  • Engagement in work activities
  • Communications with other employees
  • Physical capabilities
  • Daylight functioning

Additionally, those who experience mental illness are more likely to doubt their abilities and lack confidence. They may also have a hard time concentrating, learning new things, and making important workplace decisions. These issues can have significant impacts on work performance. 4

An employee who has a mental illness is also more likely to withdraw from others and act in unexpected ways. They may take a lot of time off and lack productivity. These factors can strain relationships with supervisors and coworkers, further affecting workplace performance and increasing business costs. 4

If an employee experiences a severe mental illness such as depression, their ability to complete physical job duties is impacted 20% of the time. Depression also reduces an employee’s cognitive performance, about 35% of the time. Only 57% of employees with moderate depression receive proper treatment, as do only 40% of those with severe depression. 1

Examples of Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

Mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety typically manifest differently in the workplace than they do in other settings. Workers who experience a mental illness may call in sick often and display decreased productivity, resulting in economic consequences for their workplace. Different mental health illnesses manifest differently in the workplace.


Depression is the most extensively studied mental illness in the workplace, perhaps because of its prevalence. Almost 6% of employees experience depression symptoms in any given year.

In the workplace, depression often manifests in the following behaviors and symptoms:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Physical complaints
  • Passivity
  • Withdrawal from workplace activities
  • Lack of productivity
  • FatigueImpaired judgment and decision making

Workers who struggle with depression reported losing the equivalent of 27 workdays per year due to sick days taken (9 days) and lost productivity (18 days). People who experience depression are also more likely to lose their jobs or experience frequent job changes. 

The continuation of these issues in the workplace is contributed to by a lack of treatment. Only 57% of employees who experience symptoms of major depression reported receiving treatment in the past year, and only 42% of those who received treatment considered it to be adequate.

Bipolar Disorder

Someone who has bipolar disorder often shifts between elevated or manic moods and depressed moods. In the workplace, mania often manifests in the following behaviors and symptoms:

  • The appearance of high energy and creativity with a lack of actual productivity
  • Self-aggrandizing or disruptive
  • Disregards workplace rules
  • Overly aggressive
  • Impaired judgment

During the depressive phase of bipolar disorder, employees are likely to exhibit the same depressive behaviors and symptoms mentioned above. Mania is often more noticeable in the workplace; however, the depressive phase is typically more detrimental to work performance.

About 1% of employees in the United States have bipolar disorder in any given year. Workers diagnosed with bipolar disorder reported losing the equivalent of about 28 workdays per year due to sick days taken and other absences. They also reported losing an additional 35 workdays as a result of lost productivity.

Almost two-thirds of employees who experience symptoms of bipolar disorder reported receiving treatment for it. However, only 9% of those who received treatment from general practitioners reported that their care aligned with the published guidelines for treating bipolar disorder. A total of 45% of those who received care from mental health professionals reported that their care aligned with the published guidelines.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders in the workplace manifest in the following behaviors and symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excess worry
  • Requiring constant reassurance regarding performance
  • Physical symptoms
  • Irritability

About 6% of the population is affected by anxiety at some point in their life. Anxiety usually goes undiagnosed for 5 to 10 years, and only about one-third of those experiencing anxiety symptoms receive treatment.

Anxiety disorders cause significant impairment in the workplace, as the number of lost workdays due to sick days taken and lost productivity is similar to that of major depression.


A total of 3.5% of employees have been diagnosed with ADHD. In the workplace, ADHD manifests in the following behaviors and symptoms:

  • Disorganization
  • Failure to meet deadlines
  • Trouble managing workloads
  • Issues following instructions
  • Arguments with coworkers

Employees who have ADHD reported losing 22 days per year due to sick days taken and lost productivity. Individuals with ADHD are 18 times more likely to be disciplined for their workplace behavior than those who do not have ADHD. They are also likely to earn 20% to 40% less than other employees and four times as likely to lose their job.

Employees who experience ADHD are especially unlikely to receive the treatment they need. Only 13% reported being treated in a 12 month period.

Mental Health Risks in the Workplace

Several factors contribute to poor mental health in the workplace, which can lead to high turnover and a reduction in productivity for a business. These risk factors typically include the workplace structure, interactions at work, how managers function, and the availability of support.

  • Bullying and harassment: A healthy workplace should be void of any mistreatment and hostility.6
  • Micromanagement: 70% of employees who experienced micromanagement considered quitting their jobs.6
  • Lack of resources: It is challenging to succeed at work without proper support from a company and its managers.6
  • Silence regarding mental health issues: Employees may feel like they need to hide their mental illness when a company exhibits a discriminatory or toxic culture.6
  • Inflexible hours and time off: A lack of flexibility can negatively impact employees’ mental wellbeing.6
  • Unclear responsibilities and expectations: When expectations aren’t clear, employees are more likely to make mistakes and receive ridicule. This issue can be hard to address, especially when there is a lack of effective communication.6
  • Unreasonable expectations: When employees are given tasks that do not align with their experience and training, this can set them up for failure.6
  • Poor work-life balance: Employees who are unable to create separation between their profession and personal life are more likely to experience burnout and a lack of productivity.6

Mental Health Risks During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have been faced with additional threats to their wellbeing, including: 7

  • Loss of work
  • Pay cuts
  • Working from home
  • Uncertain employment
  • Lack of physical contact with coworkers
  • Fear of contracting the virus at work
  • Physical disconnection from family

The fear of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace is the primary source of stress for many employees required to work in person. This fear is especially present in workers who experience frequent contact with the public and who work in a highly dense environment. Employees who have chronic diseases experience the most fear, as they are the most at-risk of experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms. 7

Employees who work from home aren’t likely to experience the same amount of fear as those who work in person but may experience new stress as they adjust to working remotely. Maintaining a work-life balance can be increasingly difficult, as home-related activities are always available to them. Some employees working from home may also be responsible for caring for their children who are learning remotely, creating additional strain. Additional chores and caring for children can have an impact on wellbeing and productivity. 7

The workload and work schedule has changed for many employees to make up for employers’ financial losses. Workers may experience working longer hours and more shifts, taking on more responsibilities, or taking fewer days off. These changes can cause burnout, anxiety, depression, and even mental breakdowns. 7

The additional work-related stress that all employees face during COVID-19 will ultimately lead to lost productivity, which can create a loss of success for businesses. Fortunately, employers can take measures to minimize mental health risks in the workplace. 7

What Employers
Can Do

In general, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers need to create a healthy workspace and support their employees, particularly those who suffer from mental health disorders. 8

Create a Healthy Workplace

To create a healthy workplace for employees, employers should: 8

  • Be aware of the existing environment and how it can be altered to promote mental health in the workplace
  • Learn from leaders and employees who have taken action to create a healthier workplace
  • Utilize tools that other companies have used to promote mental health
  • Understand that different employees may have different needs
  • Take advantage of resources and support for employees who are struggling
  • Implement and enforce health and safety policies, which includes identifying distress, substance abuse disorders, and illness
  • Provide resources to manage employees who experience mental health issues and inform them that this is available
  • Involve employees in decision making and encourage participation
  • Incorporate practices that support a healthy work-life balance
  • Offer programs for career development
  • Recognize and reward employees for their contributions
Additionally, employers should seek mental health interventions that incorporate information about prevention, early identification, support, and rehabilitation. In addition to taking these steps, employers should take extra care to support those who exhibit mental illnesses. 8

Support Employees with Mental Illnesses

Employers are responsible for supporting employees with mental illnesses in their continuation of or return to work. Practicing the steps outlined above can help employees who have mental illnesses. Flexible hours, job redesign, addressing negative dynamics, and supportive and confidential communication are essential for those with mental illnesses. 8

The stigma associated with mental illness makes it increasingly important for employees who have any kind of mental illness to feel supported. Access to treatment for these illnesses is also effective. Employers can connect their employees with the necessary resources. 8

Support Mental Health in the Workplace During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has created even more stress and strain in the workplace. Employers can take additional measures to foster better mental health at work. These measures include: 9
  • Building a trauma-informed workplace: Trauma-informed workplaces can better address the mental health impacts of COVID-19. The trauma that people experience as a result of the pandemic can impact how they respond to stress, how they think and feel, and their productivity level.6
  • Fostering connection and relational wellbeing: COVID-19 has created a reliance on technology and has caused many people to begin working remotely, which has created barriers regarding connection in the workplace. Communicating with empathy and understanding is extremely important during this time.6
  • Understanding neurodiversity: Different employees have different struggles with mental health. It is essential to understand each employee’s unique benefits and how to support them individually.6


There are also initiatives employees can engage in to promote their own health in the workplace, including:1

  • Encouraging employers to offer mental health education and programs that meet the needs of employees
  • Participating in programs and activities to learn skills and gain mental health support
  • Participating in trainings that focus on topics such as how to manage behaviors and attitudes in the workplace
  • Sharing personal experiences with coworkers to help reduce stigma
  • Maintaining an open mind regarding their coworker’s experiences and feelings
  • Engaging in behaviors that promote mental health and stress management
  • Eating healthy, exercising regularly, and getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Practicing activities that promote relaxation such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or tai chi
  • Building social connections
  • Reflecting on positive experiences and expressing gratitude
  • Asking for help when necessary

Employee COVID-19 Mental Health Guide

COVID-19 has presented additional mental health challenges for employees. Employees can engage in the above initiatives but may want to take it a step further due to the additional stress they may be experiencing. To maintain health and wellbeing during this difficult time, employees can also: 2
  • Maintain a regular schedule: If you are working from home, set up a designated space for you and your family members to work or learn. Include breaks in the schedule, and add in some healthy activities.6
  • Stay connected: Maintain a connection with family, friends, and support systems using technology. Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangout are great ways to connect with people. It is also vital to discuss fears and anxiety with people you trust.6
  • Strengthen your immune system: Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds, maintain a healthy sleep schedule, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and take vitamins.6
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise is good for your physical health and mental health. Exercising can include periodically getting up and walking around your home, taking a walk in the neighborhood, doing planks and jumping jacks, or taking online workout classes.6
  • Limit media consumption: News, media, and social media can trigger or elevate fear, anxiety, stress, and panic. It is possible to stay informed without continuous exposure to this type of media.6
  • Set boundaries at work: Make sure to work reasonable hours. It can be easy to take on more work while at home, but this can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing.6
  • Distract and redirect: Find activities that promote wellbeing and distract you from external challenges. These activities can include meditation, yoga, journaling, reading, art projects, cooking, breathing exercises, or listening to calming music.6

If you are experiencing a mental illness that you have not yet sought treatment for, it is crucial to ask for help right away. You are not alone, and there are various mental health professionals who can help you live a happier life, even in these unprecedented times.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, April 10).
    Mental Health in the Workplace. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/
  2. Center for Workplace Mental Health. (n.d.).
    Working Remotely During COVID-19. Retrieved January 5, 2021, from http://workplacementalhealth.org/
  3. Hojjati, P. (2020, August 19).
    Mental Health in the Workplace During COVID-19: How Can Employers Help? Retrieved from https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/
  4. Canadian Mental Health Association. (2016, May 03).
    Mental Illnesses in the Workplace. Retrieved from https://cmha.ca/
  5. No Longer an Active Link – N/A.
  6. Feuer, D. (2019, February).
    Mental Health In The Workplace: A Guide To Success. Retrieved from https://www.zippia.com/
  7. Corporate Wellness Magazine. (n.d.).
    COVID-19 and Mental Health in the Workplace. Retrieved January 5, 2021, from corporatewellnessmagazine.com
  8. World Health Organization. (n.d.).
    Mental health in the workplace. Retrieved January 5, 2021, from https://www.who.int/
  9. Staglin, G. (2020, September 02).
  10. Mental Health In The Workplace: A Look At Leaders’ Top Priorities.
    Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/