Stigma affects individuals with mental health issues in all aspects of their lives – personal relationships, family life and in the workplace.

According to N.A.M.I. (National Alliance of Mental Illness), eight out of ten workers with a mental health condition say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment. Workers may be afraid that being open about their struggles will hurt their reputation, compromise work relationships, or even jeopardize their job.

Dan Lukasik, Director of Workplace Well-Being for Mental Health Advocates of Western New York and a member of the National Speakers Association, notes that mental health in the workplace is a big problem and CEOs are taking notice. He coordinates the agency’s Mindset program for companies and their employees to open up the conversation and reduce stigma around mental health issues. Ten years ago, following his diagnosis of depression while the managing partner for his law firm, Dan created the website lawyerwithdepression.com, the first site of its kind in the nation.

According to Lukasik, there is a consensus that mental health problems are at an epidemic level, and when brought into the workplace, result in significant impact to the bottom line. In addition to direct costs related to absenteeism, mental illness can also result in lost productivity when employees may suffer from anxiety or depression.

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Mental health-related claims are rising by 10 percent per year


Each year, $193 billion in workplace earnings are lost due to serious mental illness.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

“Depression is the leading cause of disability claims and the impact to the bottom line is significant,” Lukasik said. “Disability claims related to physical issues are rising at five percent per year, while mental health-related claims are rising by 10 percent per year.”

In fact, each year, 217 million workdays are lost due to depression and according to N.A.M.I., $193 billion in workplace earnings are lost due to serious mental illness.

Althea E. Luehrsen, CEO of Leadership Buffalo, works with 100 managers and directors from businesses across Western New York each year. Mental illness and the opioid crisis have dominated the group’s annual health care session for the past several years. “The overall conversation is getting louder and we really need to talk about it. Mental illness is on the rise, especially in younger generations,” Luehrsen said.

“Millennials, for example, are under more pressure with demands to achieve, social media, outstanding college loans and challenges of finding jobs.” According to Luehrsen, larger employers are putting resources in place inside their companies to assist employees and schools are creating quiet and safe spaces to help students with mental health challenges.

“I believe things are moving in the right direction and more companies want to change their corporate culture and create wider acceptance of these topics,” Lukasik said. He said companies are able to reduce stigma by creating an open, safe environment to talk about mental illness within an organization and increase the number of employees and their families getting help.

The demand for the Mindset – The Path to Workplace Mental Well-Being program offered by Mental Health Advocates of WNY, is growing and company and organizational leadership are investing in wellness initiatives to shift attention to well-being and a positive work/life environment. The program for employees is focused on stress self-management and the leadership team program, on a method whereby they can address employees who may be having mental health issues in a positive and constructive manner.

Managers and directors of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library recently participated in the Mindset program. “At public libraries, we welcome everyone and our patrons are representative of our cross-culture,” Mary Jean Jakubowski, director, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library said. “Our staff recognizes that mental illness may affect our patrons and our employees. It’s our responsibility to identify these issues, encourage patrons or colleagues to seek help and provide support.”

According to Jakubowski, stigma still exists in today’s society but people are becoming more accepting and educating themselves about mental issues and how to be supportive.

Mindset can help companies open up the conversation to reduce stigma around mental health issues and help employees achieve work-life balance. To learn more, contact Daniel Lukasik, director, Workplace Well-Being, Mental Health Advocates of WNY at dlukasik@mhawny.org or (716) 886-1242 x316.