The Tragic Effects of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse at Work

May 5, 2023 Off By Deanna Coleman

Problems with mental health and substance abuse in the workplace are interrelated. Fortunately, employers can take a variety of precautions.

Only 48% of working adults said their employer provided resources to help with mental health needs, and only 42% said they received enough resources to manage stress, according to a 2017 survey for the American Psychological Association. However, many businesses are starting to step up to the plate to meet these needs as awareness of the sheer number of workers dealing with mental health issues grows.

The Family Institute at Northwestern University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program recently wrote about the needs of employees in terms of their mental health and how some businesses are stepping up their support.z

Why Workplace Mental Health Services Are Needed ?

One in five US workers claim that mental health issues have made it harder for them to deal with challenges at work; younger workers may have the most difficulty. In contrast to the Gen-Xers (17%) and millennials (29%), who both confirmed having mental health issues related to their jobs, only 5% of baby boomers reported that mental health issues can make work more difficult.

A rise in awareness among younger workers, according to Dr. Eric Beeson, a core faculty member at Counseling@Northwestern and a licensed professional counselor, could explain the trend. He asserted that younger people today have a more comprehensive understanding of wellbeing and are more conscious of the value of a healthy work-life balance. However, performance requirements frequently make it difficult to maintain a work-life balance. The good news is that some businesses promote social and emotional well-being in the workplace, so if people are going to sacrifice balance, some of these needs can be satisfied there.

Advice For Your Business

Even if your business doesn’t already have a mental health program in place, Dr. Beeson says there are a few crucial steps you can take to get going:

  • fostering an atmosphere of acceptance; increasing understanding of the reality of mental health issues;
  • Encourage wellness programs for employees; Provide formal training and education to employees;
  • wellness promotion in benefit packages;

The first step might be crucial because mental health issues are frequently associated with stigma. According to Dr. Besson, there can occasionally be a fear of consequences. According to the mental illness, there may be a fear that people will be seen as weaker or “less than,” or possibly as (having) a moral failing of their own.

Services for Substance Use and Mental Health

With a focus on employee health, the workplace presents a fantastic opportunity to address issues with workers’ mental health and addiction.

  • implementing written substance use policies and a drug-free workplace;
  • offering health benefits that cover all aspects of health care for people with substance use disorders; this includes counseling and aftercare;
  • lowering discrimination at work;
  • through corporate wellness initiatives, educating employees about the risks that substance use has for their health and productivity.

Whatever your position within an organization, you can help those who work there with their mental health needs. Simply demonstrating your care is among the most valuable actions you can take.

Beginning with detoxification, which gives patients a chance to separate the symptoms of their drug or alcohol addiction from the symptoms of their mental illness, a cohesive treatment plan would likely combine a number of common elements. A recovery process that specifically addresses both substance abuse and mental health may also include inpatient rehabilitation, psychotherapy, medications, self-help, and support groups.

Those with a dual diagnosis may be discouraged from seeking concurrent treatment because of the distinct treatment settings that exist for mental illness and substance use disorders.

Are Mental Health Issues Increasing?

Experts continue to theorize that coexistence could be brought on by a variety of circumstances: drugs could cause a user to start exhibiting symptoms of mental illness; a person who is experiencing mental illness could use drugs to try to combat or cope with symptoms; the same genetic factors, exposure to early trauma, or brain deficits could be responsible for both drug use and mental illness. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia are common mental illnesses that coexist with addiction.

A graphic from the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s online MSW Master of Social Work program examines the numerous connections between long-term mental illness and substance abuse. According to the program, 14 million adults with mental illnesses used illicit drugs in 2015, and those individuals had a higher risk of doing so than those without mental illnesses. Others used drugs like marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, and heroin, while some misused psychotherapeutic medications like painkillers, sedatives, stimulants, and tranquilizers.

Helpful Resources

Treatment for Substance Abuse

Mental Heatlh Treatment Resources