How to Assist Employees Through Mental Health Struggles

How to Assist Employees Through Mental Health Struggles

By RJ Frasca

Veterans are widely known to struggle with mental health challenges. Suicide among veterans increased 30% between 2010 and 2018 and is now at the highest recorded rate in U.S. history.

Millions of American workers, including veterans who’ve transitioned out of the military and into civilian roles, are struggling with work-related pressure and anxiety too. These challenges are severely impacting their mental health, both on and off the job.

According to findings over the last year, the heightened stress levels associated with the pandemic and other external factors have affected the coping ability of employees and increased substance abuse among workers. This includes:

  • 1 in 3 Americans admitting they’re more likely to drink alcohol during work hours while working from home
  • Specific industries, like construction, seeing an alarming surge in deaths by suicide

While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows 90% experienced symptoms including (but not limited to) stress, anxiety, and depression.

In honor of Veterans Day, which comes later this week, we’re highlighting ways employers can identify employees who may be struggling with mental health difficulties and provide better solutions to assist employees dealing with stress.

Support During High-Stress Times

As thoughts turn to the holiday season, which is already recognized as a high-stress period for employees, organizations need to remind workers about assistance programs designed to improve stress management and address substance abuse issues. A recent Yale study found that social support programs are a key factor in reducing veterans’ suicide risks. These programs can assist with managing any mental health issues an employee is facing and reduce higher employer costs associated with stress, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Lost productivity resulting from a substance abuse disorder costs employers $25.5 billion overall annually, reports Quit Genius. And employees with multiple addictions can cost employers between $16,000 – $21,000 annually, almost three times more than those with no underlying drug or alcohol issues.

Missed days of work and productivity also add up when employees have substance abuse issues according to a recently completed study. Workers with a substance abuse disorder miss nearly three work weeks per year for illness, injury, or reasons other than vacations and holidays, compared to 10.5 days for workers without drug or alcohol issues.

Support Available Through Employee Assistance Program

With pressures continuing to mount on workers, providing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a critical step toward keeping employees healthy and safe. An Employee Assistance Program is a work-based intervention program that assists employees in dealing with personal challenges that may be adversely affecting the employee’s performance. An EAP offers assistance and resources for a variety of needs, including:

  • Substance use
  • Stress management
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Financial and legal concerns
  • Family and parenting issues
  • Relationship improvement
  • Life changes
  • Workplace violence

Many EAPs extend services to an employee’s immediate family members so that everyone who needs help can get it. The information discussed with an EAP counselor is confidential and compliant with state and federal laws.

One aspect of an EAP program for workplaces is similar to another veterans support program called Compassionate Contact Corps. This program links veterans who feel lonely or socially isolated with a trained volunteer who they can talk with over the phone or through video sessions. It’s like a phone buddy program and has become increasingly popular through the pandemic

Employees may choose to contact the EAP provider at their company on their own, or sometimes an employee may be asked to use an EAP as part of an agreement with an employer. The guidance provided by the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) states an employee’s job security will not be jeopardized because of seeking or using EAP services, except where mandated by law.

Supporting Employees through Drug Screening

Veterans are particularly susceptible to the dangers of substance abuse as a coping mechanism for other mental health challenges, which, if left untreated, have been linked to suicide. The 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report showed Veterans Health Administration users diagnosed with substance use disorders had higher rates of suicide than those with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition to reminding employees of assistance programs, employers may want to help employees manage substance abuse by implementing drug testing for remote workers. Evidence suggests pre-employment drug testing results in:

  • Reduced turnover
  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Compliance with state or federal regulations
  • Lower workman’s compensation costs
  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Improved workplace safety
  • Better identification of, and referral for, employees with drug or alcohol struggles

One of the best ways to determine if an employee is struggling with a substance abuse issue is to conduct pre-employment drug testing and continue routine testing per an organization’s drug-free workplace plan.

Smarter, Safer Solutions with EBI

Most organizations have their own unique drug testing policy and timing frequency. The most significant difference for implementing remote drug testing is the type of testing and how the screening process is going to be managed – especially during the current conditions related to the pandemic. However, certain industries like aviation and trucking are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation and have different guidelines they must follow. Regardless if a company is regulated by DOT or not, employers may want to choose a drug screening provider that has earned a Consortium/Third-Party Administrator accreditation (this assures compliance with DOT drug testing requirements) and one who can walk employers through all the options that are available in non-DOT drug testing.

As one of only ten drug screening providers to earn a coveted Consortium/Third-Party Administrator accreditation, EBI can help you determine which type of drug testing method is best for your company. Our drug screening platform enables you to manage every aspect of your drug screening program from a single interface. All specimen types are supported (urine, hair, blood, oral fluid), and we have the largest self-managed network with over 15,000 locations.

Medical and addiction experts will need to monitor the rates of substance abuse and drug overdose deaths as this pandemic continues, just as employers will need to support their employees’ efforts to stay safe and healthy, both physically and mentally.

In addition to the tips above, employers can also recommend the following crisis resources to employees. Organizations don’t have to wait until something tragic happens to one of their employees or a mass worker exodus before encouraging employees to get help. Highlighting available EAPs along with the use of consistent drug screening should help organizations improve employee wellness and reduce costs associated with stress, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

If you have questions about additional ways to support your employees, EBI is here to help with safer, smarter solutions. Contact one of our experts today.

Crisis Resources

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
  • If you’re a veteran having thoughts of suicide or you know one who is, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, chat online at, or text to 838255.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

*A version of this article originally appeared in HR Daily Advisor.

About the Author

RJ Frasca

RJ Frasca

RJ Frasca is Vice President of Marketing and Product of EBI Inc., a leading background screening provider. Frasca brings more than 20 years of marketing and product experience with companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft, Time Warner, and Verizon.

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