Thomasnet addressed Mental Health Awareness Month (May) with a thought-provoking article about mental health in the industrial workplace. These health issues can be nearly invisible, so they’re seldom adequately unaddressed. They can range from depression, anxiety and substance abuse to more serious disorders. Obviously, mental health challenges have an unfortunate human toll, but they can also be very costly to the economy, to a workplace, and to individuals.

Here are some figures relating to the topic:

  • According to a study published in 2017 by Mental Health America, manufacturing ranked in the bottom 10% of industries when assessed according to mental health score. (Also in that category: retail and food/beverage service.)
  • One in four U.S. workers has been diagnosed with depression, according to a 2014 survey from the Center for Workplace Mental Health, a branch of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 18 percent of the U.S. adult population (44.7 million, or nearly 1 in 5) has a mental illness in any given year, according to 2016 data.
  • Some 2003 studies estimated the cost of depression in the U.S. workplace to be between $31 and $51 billion annually.

Consider also that a mental health condition can be a long-term situation. While risk factors for most chronic health conditions increase later in life, a mental health condition can present in a worker’s 20s or 30s and persist for a lifetime. It can impact productivity, attendance, injury, illness and recovery.

Risk Factors Inherent to Manufacturing

The nature of manufacturing work can expose workers to more risk factors and triggers, such as stress and anxiety. Some manufacturing is highly repetitive, physically demanding, and dangerous. Long hours and the simultaneous and seemingly conflicting pressures for production and safety can induce stress. Lack of daylight, excessive noise, and inadequate social interaction can also contribute.

Steps to Take

Think about the risk factors your workplace make have. If employees are daylight-deprived, make sure they have an inviting outdoor space to eat lunch. Promote social interaction with employee activities such as team building, bowling leagues, and celebrations. Encourage good exercise habits with workplace challenges, sports activities such as softball teams, and discounted gym memberships or a workout room. Take steps to reduce noise and protect employee hearing. Rotate activities and roles to decrease excess repetition.

Train managers and supervisors to take an active role in staying connected with their team. By having genuine, ongoing conversations with team members, they can help employees feel seen and heard, and help them resolve the problems which are causing them stress.

Utilize an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which offers services such as personal and financial counseling.

Cultivating a Positive Workplace

Improving the workplace environment contributes to employee satisfaction, which can counter the effects of stress. Here are the top five reasons employees cite when describing a positive workplace, according to Mental Health America:

  • Relationship with co-workers
  • Contribution of work to organization’s business goals
  • Meaningfulness of the job
  • Opportunities to use skills/abilities
  • Relationship with immediate supervisor