Workplace StressIf you wouldn’t force your employees to come to work with a broken leg or the flu, then you should also recognize the effect that mental illness can have on an employee. According to an estimate made by the National Institute of Mental Health last year, about one in five adults in the U.S lived with a diagnosable mental illness in the previous year. That’s 43 million people. What’s more: one in 25 people has a “serious functional impairment due to a mental illness.”

If you are the leader of an organization, you can make a change by implementing a policy that better supports employees who live with mental illnesses. This allows for a more sympathetic and inclusive work culture, and you will also get greater return because your employees will be fully healthy when they come to work. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Kelsey Meyer shares how her company Influence & Co, wrote a new mental health policy.The tips below can help you to do the same in your company’s environment.

Step 1: Determine Your Goals

Meyer first partnered with the director of human resources in her company to discuss the key elements of the policy. She wanted to emphasize that mental illness affects everyone differently. She also wanted all employees to feel supported and she wanted to use inclusive language. The best way to go about a process like this is to invite employees to share their ideas for a mental health policy with you. You can include employees in the process through private meetings or an activity at your next retreat. This can help you to reach the goals you set out to achieve with the policy.

Step 2: Do Research And Write Your Policy

Now, your HR director needs to research the accommodations and language the other companies include in their policies. This will give you a frame of reference. Make sure to keep your goals as well as your employee feedback in mind. Then, your HR person should research recommendations that mental health organizations offer for those living with mental illnesses. This step is especially crucial for companies that have never had a comprehensive mental health policy. Even if your company already does have a mental health policy, researching regularly can keep you up-to-date on the most recent information from mental health experts and organizations. After researching, your HR director should work on drafting your policy. Don’t get too involved in the drafting of the policy. Just be a part of the review process and encourage your HR person to incorporate your initial ideas.

Step 3: Run It By Your Attorney

After the draft is prepared, it’s a good idea to send it to your HR attorney, who can make sure the policy is legal and aligns with your current policies. Meyer states that Influence & Co’s HR attorney helped the company include specific information about confidentiality. You don’t want to create a policy that can’t be legally enforced.

Step 4: Meet With A Mental Health Advocate

If you don’t have a mental health professional on staff, it’s important to consult an expert. Kelsey Meyer cites this step as the most important part of the process of implementing a mental health policy at Influence & Co. This advocate can help with appropriate language, accommodation options, open communication technique, and solutions for working alongside your employees to support them. A mental health advocate may bring to light details that you previously hadn’t considered.

Step 5: Introduce Your Policy To Employees

If you just send your new plan out in an email, your employees might not understand the details of the policy. Hold an event or host a workshop in order to clarify exactly how the policy came to be and what it means. It can be scary to talk about mental health, but opening up the conversation can actually facilitate bonding and remove stigma. It’s a good idea to invite your mental health advocate back for assistance. It’s a good idea to train your leadership team and to train your employees through workshops that allow them to speak openly about mental health.

Mental health issues affect many Americans, and can be just as debilitating as physical health issues. Take notice of these problems by implementing a mental health policy that makes employees who live with mental illnesses feel supported and understood.