Skip to main content
Blue @ Work

A real conversation about mental health in the workplace

For many, success at work means sacrifices: long hours, taking work home and always being ready to take on another project.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness External Site, 1 in 5 adults in America are living with a mental illness

Putting work before everything — especially mental health — is often seen as the only way to get ahead. For many, this had led to burnout, depression and anxiety, which leads to unproductive and unwell employees. And, it's time we start talking about it.

Enter: Lyndsey Fennelly External Site — a former standout on the Iowa State Women’s basketball team during the 2003-07 seasons, and draftee of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

We’re only getting started with her resume.

Fennelly soon became a wife, mother of two, entrepreneur, volunteer, motivational speaker, radio commentator for women's basketball and so much more. On paper (and in person), Fennelly is smart, high energy, incredibly motivated, and someone who has it all together.

Under the surface, Fennelly deals with mental illness. When her mental health is at its worst, she experiences two extremes. The first is manic episodes. The other is extreme depression.

“I’ve found my trigger to be when I don’t get enough sleep. I always thought it looked good to respond to an email at 4 a.m. and showcase to that person that I could do it all.”

“You can’t see — or touch — mental health”

Odds are you know a high-achieving employee, and the employee who lacks motivation. However, the assumptions associated with either only fuel the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 37 percent of workers feel comfortable telling employers they need time off due to mental health. Not to mention, even if everything seems fine in an employees' life on the surface, 50 percent of stressed workplace individuals turn to unhealthy behaviors (e.g. substance abuse) to combat mental health challenges.

Want to hear more about Lyndsey Fennelly’s battle with mental illness? Watch our free webinar External Site to learn more about how you can support your employee population with various solutions and resources.

“I always encourage employers (and their employees) to follow the 3 A’s,” said Fennelly. “Awareness: being in-tune with symptoms and varying triggers, Acceptance: Benefiting from medication, or therapy, and Advocacy: supporting yourself and others by advocating for anyone who struggles with mental illness.”

See image description of stats from the American Institute of Stress
  • 94 percent of people report feeling stressed at work.
  • Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in health care costs yearly.
  • 54 percent report that stress at work creates challenges at home.
  • 51 percent of employees are mentally checked out at work.
  • Depression leads to $51 billion in costs due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs.
  • Source: American Institute of Stress

5 tips to prioritize mental health within your workplace according to Lyndsey Fennelly

Millennials with a behavioral health condition are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a chronic physical condition such as hypertension, type II diabetes and coronary artery disease. Read more about how 92 percent of millennials believe COVID-19 has impacted their mental health by downloading the Supporting the behavioral health of your millennial employees mini whitepaper External Site by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

There's no question that mental health conditions impact each generation. However, with millennials expected to make up 75 percent of the workforce in 2025, and their increase in behavioral health conditions compared to other generations, employers must re-evaluate culture, benefits, structures and more.

Not sure where to get started? Lyndsey Fennelly provides five tips for employers to begin fostering a culture of de-stigmatizing mental health in the workplace.

  1. Give your team flexibility.

    Your employees are adults, not children — treat them like it. Trust your employees will get their work done and give them the freedom to take the time they need throughout the day for breaks for movement, lunch, brain breaks Opens in a new window, or doctor’s appointments.
  2. Make it easier to get help.

    Inform your employees about the benefits your workplace offers, provide guidance with their health plan by determining what’s covered, or which providers are available in their network. Also consider offering (or promoting) an Employee Assistance Program, as well as managerial and employee-focused trainings surrounding mental health in the workplace.
  3. Track the progress made.

    Take some time throughout the year to listen to your employees. Are they engaged, what services are they using (or not using), how can your workplace improve with services, resources, and support for mental health?
  4. Get employee buy-in.

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 37 percent of workers feel comfortable telling their employer that they need time off due to their mental health. Mental illness is not shameful — but there is still a stigma, making it difficult for your employees to feel comfortable seeking assistance, or asking for help before they are in a crisis.
  5. Bring in the professionals.

    Mental health awareness, advocacy and acceptance are vital to developing both healthy employees and workplaces. If you are stretched for time or resources, consider bringing in the professionals. Training (whether on-site or virtual) for all personnel — management to entry level — can de-stigmatize mental health in the workplace and can foster a supportive culture. Consider one of these options:
    1. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield health and well-being consulting.

      Here at Wellmark, we know healthy employees are happier, perform better and are less absent from work — especially when your organization takes a more holistic approach to accommodate employees’ changing needs.

We know your business and have insight and data on your employees that you might not have in house. Our team of employer health and well-being consultants serve as an extension of your workforce and are with you every step of the way to find the right combination of solutions.

    1. Lyndsey Fennelly, mental performance coach.

      Looking for a great workplace activity that will apply to all employees? Consider having Lyndsey Fennelly speak at your next all-staff meeting. Fennelly tailors each interaction to meet your objectives. Topics range from leadership, creating a great culture social media, building winning teams, goal setting, mental health and much more.

Receive updates on her book launch and more, by getting connected with Lyndsey Fennelly External Site.

Virtual visits prove effective for addressing mental health

A virtual doctor visit may be a great place for your employees to start receiving support with mental health conditions such as:

According to a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) survey External Site, use of virtual visits has almost doubled since the summer of 2019, with many of that growth stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Millennials and Gen Z age groups are using the benefit more than older age groups, reporting a 30 and 35 percent usage compared to Baby Boomers.

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield has seen virtual visits for behavioral health increase among members Opens in a new window by more than 3,000 percent. Most of the virtual visit claims received are from existing patients seeking to continue their behavioral health services.

Ready, set, let’s talk wellness

Did you know with the "Track your Progress" tool on your Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield workplace Wellness Assessment, we can gather a pulse on your populations emotional health and well-being? In 2019 alone, 64 percent of respondents mentioned stress negatively impacts their overall health and well-being.

And more recently in May 2020, only a few months after the hit of the pandemic, our pulse survey in the Wellness Center showed that 33 percent of respondents believe COVID-19 negatively impacted their health.

Learn more about a tailored workplace well-being solution that fits your unique employee population with the help of an employer health and well-being consultants.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark account representative, or email us at Send Email.