Mental health not only reason to reduce stress

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Attention bosses: if your workers are stressed, you could be the one paying for it.

Nearly half the country allows worker compensation claims for emotional disorders and disabilities because of stress on the job. Studies show health care costs are 50 percent higher for workers who report high levels of stress, according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

While stress can be the result of problems at work or at home, study after study show correlations between high stress levels and chronic cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Identifying stressful situations can be difficult for employers, said Dee Funkhouser, program director at the El Paso County Mental Health Association. And employees can bring stress from personal problems to the job, causing lost productivity and work days.

“It’s highly individualized,” Funkhouser said. “What’s stressful for some people can be easily handled by other people. One thing is for sure – you take it with you, wherever you go.”

What Workers Say About Stress on the Job

In a typical workplace of 20 employees, four will likely develop a mental illness this year.
Workers who have depression report losing 5.6 hours a week due to lost productivity, compared with 1.6 hours a week among workers without depression.
Depression is associated with a 50 percent increase in missed work days. But early and proper treatment is associated with a marked decrease in disability time.
Seventy-five percent of visits to doctors’ offices concern stress-related ailments.
More than three out of four employees who seek care for workplace issues or mental health problems see substantial improvement in work performance after treatment.
Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

40 percent of workers report their job is “very or extremely stressful”
26 percent of workers report they are “often or very often burned out or stressed at work”
29 percent of workers reprt they feel “quite a bit or extremely stressed at work”

Employers often bear the brunt of personal or job-related stress, which often equates to days missed at work and illness. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers who must take time off because of stress, anxiety or a related disorder will be off the job for about 20 days.

“When we are under chronic stress, stress that occurs day after day, then we have trouble concentrating and making decisions,” Funkhouser said. “You can often tell if someone is stressed, if they always say, ‘I’m very busy,’ or ‘I’m very tired.’ People who are stressed out, and dealing with lots of problems, don’t usually get enough rest.”

Jane Hammoud, executive director of the mental health association, said nonprofit employees often experience a different kind of stress than those in private companies.

“Sometimes you see mission burn-out,” she said. “There are just so many people out there who need help, and you can’t help them all. But on the other hand, there’s a compassion factor that brings job satisfaction – you are doing something that helps people.”

Job stress can be defined as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker, she said. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury. But workers often bring stressful personal problems to work with them – leaving employers in a tough situation, Funkhouser said.

“It puts employers in the position of knowing too much about the employee,” she said. “Things people don’t want to know – personal information. For that reason, many employers offer outside help for over-stressed employees.”

Other employers offer lunchtime programs – yoga, nutritional or financial classes – available to help an employee de-stress in the middle of the work day, Funkhouser said. Many offer employee assistance programs that provide help in the form of professional counselors.

Steve Tucker is the director of Centura’s employee assistance program. This spring, he’s seen a tremendous increase in the number of people his department sees.

“We’ve just seen a dramatic increase – and the people we see have more serious problems. I think it’s just the state of the world, the state of the country, the state of our community. We’ve seen some changes in the family structure, people move more; they’re more transient. It leads to a great deal of stress.”

Centura offers a contract for employers that allow employees and their families to see a therapist for a certain number of visits. They also offer on-the-job training – “lunch and learn” topics on how to manage stress.

“On the other end of the spectrum, we offer a 10-week program that meets once a week and offers education on stress and emotional support for those who attend,” he said.

Funkhouser said she believes that in nearly every situation, people can make changes to care for their minds, as well as their bodies.

“The important thing is that there is a way to manage stress,” she said. “People know that caring for our minds as well as our bodies can keep us healthier and more productive.”

The El Paso Mental Health Association has a Web site: www.mentalhealthanswers.com that provides a list of doctors and therapists who can treat the symptoms of stress.

Amy.Gillentine@csbj.com