Mental Wellness

distressed woman holding her head
Theresa Witham Photo
VP/Publications & Publisher

3 minutes

When planning wellness programs, don’t forget about mental health.

When Madalyn Parker sent her co-workers an email that she’d be taking a few days off to focus on her mental health, the response was overwhelming. You may have seen this story all over your social media feed and even on the news. Her story went viral when she shared the response sent by her CEO Ben Congleton. He praised her for the message and wrote: “I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health—I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations.”

How would you have responded if Madalyn were your employee?

Credit unions have an outstanding track record when it comes to employee wellness, devoting resources to both physical and financial health. But another important component of wellness is mental health. Chances are, many of your employees are affected.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 43.4 million, or 17.9 percent of the U.S. adult population, experiences mental illness in a given year. These may include depression, seasonal affective disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America reports that 56 percent of surveyed employees say stress and anxiety affect their workplace performance while 51 percent say it affects their relationships with coworkers and peers.

The main culprits of work-related stress are:

  • deadlines (55 percent);
  • interpersonal relationships (53 percent);
  • staff management (50 percent); and
  • dealing with issues or problems (49 percent).

While most of us are feeling stressed, not many are upfront with employers about it. ADAA reports that fewer than half (40 percent) of employees whose stress interferes with work have talked to their employer about it. They’re afraid:

  • their boss would interpret it as lack of interest or unwillingness to do the activity (34 percent);
  • of being labeled “weak” (31 percent);
  • it would affect promotion opportunities (22 percent);
  • it would go in their file (22 percent); and
  • of being laughed at or not taken seriously (20 percent).

Of those who did speak to their employers, four in 10 were offered some type of help, most often a referral to a mental health professional (26 percent) or a relaxation or stress-management class (22 percent).

What are some ways employers can address mental health at work and help employees? First, look at your health insurance policies. What kinds of mental healthcare benefits does it include?

Second, consider offering an employee assistance program. These typically offer free, confidential assessments, short-term counseling and referrals to resources for employees who have personal or work problems.

Third, be sure you—and your CU’s supervisors—are up-to-date on the Americans With Disabilities Act and employees’ rights to request reasonable accommodations for mental health issues. The Department of Labor suggests a few accommodations to consider, including such flexible work environments as telecommuting, part-time scheduling or job sharing, and office adjustments like seating near natural light, the ability to use headphones with music and more. View a longer list here.

Theresa Witham is CUES’ managing editor/publisher. Email her at

Compass Subscription