In a move that stunned the world, Simone Biles, a 4-time gold medalist, pulled out of competition during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The reason she gave was mental health. Simone Bile’s controversial action to step away from the competition is just one instance of many sweeping the professional sports world. Top professional athletes are shining a light on the toll performing at a high level takes on their mental health.

The New York Times put it well when they tweeted that Biles’ withdrawal “reflects a cultural shift, as some athletes put mental health above an appearance of invincibility.”

Mental health disorders are pervasive

The mental health stresses of being a high performer are not isolated to professional sports. You can see them across professions and organizations all around you. The National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, part of the National Institutes of Health, estimates that 26% of Americans ages 18 and older — about 1 in 4 adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

Mental health disorders are pervasive

Why employers should care about employee mental health

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that mental illnesses cost employers and the American economy $210 billion in 2010. Forty eight percent or $162 billion of that was attributed to lost productivity, absenteeism, and disability in the workplace.

What employers are doing to support employees

Companies are starting to pay more attention to the link between mental health and performance. Employers like Bubble, Hootsuite, and LinkedIn gave their employees a companywide week of time off this year to encourage them to recharge and destress. Other companies are expanding their benefit offerings to foster better mental wellbeing. MetLife found in their 2021 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study that 74% of employers are offering more added-value services for employees, such as mental health programs or employee assistance programs (EAP).

An employee assistance program (EAP) is an intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that adversely affect employee performance. EAPs can help workers with substance abuse, child & elder care, relationship challenges, financial & legal issues, wellness matters, and traumatic events.

How employers can help

Mental health can be a private and personal topic. High-profile figures like Simone Biles are trying to break the stigma around talking about mental health. Nonetheless, employers can be wary of wading into mental health. Below you’ll find ways that employers can help their employees with mental wellness privately and respectfully.

  • Make mental health self-assessment tools available to all employees.
  • Offer free or subsidized mental health benefits like access to clinical mental health professionals.
  • Offer health insurance with low out-of-pocket costs for depression medications and mental health counseling.
  • Provide free or subsidized self-management programs.
  • Distribute materials, like brochures, flyers, and videos, to all employees about the signs and symptoms of poor mental health.
  • Host workshops that address depression and stress management techniques.
  • Create dedicated, quiet spaces for relaxation activities.
  • Train managers to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and depression in team members and encourage them to seek help from qualified mental health professionals.
  • Give employees opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress.

We hear more and more about the effects and prevalence of mental disorders in our lives and the lives of those around us. The actions and voices of top professionals like Simone Biles make it easier for us to openly talk about mental health and make treatment available and socially acceptable.