Stress, Mental Illness are Leading Causes of Lost Days at Work

Colorado conference focuses on mentally healthy workplaces

Original post on The Denver Post

Heavy lifting, slippery floors and chronic pain no longer dominate the causes of lost days in the workplace.

Behavioral health problems do.

With that in mind, the Colorado Culture of Health Conference focused its wellness sessions on mental health this year.

About 550 people — business owners, public health officials, community leaders — came to the Colorado Convention Center on Wednesday to hear jarring statistics and reassuring suggestions about helping employees with treatable mental illnesses.

One in every four people struggle with mental health challenges each year, they were told. Antidepressants are now the third most prescribed drugs in the country. An estimated $44 billion is lost nationwide each year from reduced productivity related to depression alone.

Mary McClatchey, a consultant and former administrative law judge, told conferees that early detection and treatment can result in minimal costs and few lost days in comparison with treating a more advanced illness.

“Stigma,” she said, “is the biggest barrier to care.”

She likened current attitudes toward mental illness to the 1980s attitude toward AIDS, even though diseases of the brain are generally as treatable today as diseases elsewhere in the body.

“That’s where we are now with mental illness,” she said. Today’s prejudice is, “once a person is broken mentally, they can’t be fixed.”

The culture of health conference has served as an annual one-stop shop to improve worksite wellness in Colorado for nine years.

This year, it chose to help employers recognize and address behavioral health problems, which now account for more lost work days than any other chronic condition.

“Health is a lot more than a gym membership,” said Donna Marshall, executive director of Colorado Business Group on Health, the conference organizer.