Fighting Stigma Helps Support a Strong Ohio Workforce

Feb 21, 2022News, Newsletter

Pat Tiberi
Ohio Business Roundtable



Ohio’s business leaders have known for a long time the toll that addiction and untreated mental illness take on workforce readiness and the challenges that poses for economic development.

Among industries facing labor shortages, many of the jobs remain unfilled because so many prospects fail drug screenings. Within companies, people living with substance use disorder and mental illness often miss work or are less productive because of their conditions.

Mind Share Partners, a provider of mental health resources for companies, produced “Mental Health at Work” reports in 2019 and in 2021 that together show the pandemic’s dramatic impact on workplace mental health. While the 2019 report showed 61% of workers saying their productivity was affected by their mental health, the 2021 report reflected “near-universal” mental health challenges.

Eighty-four percent of employees in 2021 named at least one workplace factor as negatively affecting their mental health, leading workers to miss an average of 8 days for mental health reasons. And during an historic labor shortage, mental health challenges are fueling employee turnover: The Mind Share survey found that half of full-time U.S. workers have left a previous job at least in part because of mental health reasons. For Millennial respondents, the figure is 68%; for Gen Z, it’s 81%.

The monetary cost also is significant. A set of calculators produced for the National Safety Council estimate that, for a company with 200 employees, untreated mental illness costs an additional $336,000 per year in lost time, health care, turnover and retraining. Substance misuse costs the same company an average of $158,000 per year.

Smart employers are taking steps to address these problems, with employee assistance programs and company policies that allow for and encourage treatment for behavioral health problems. Federal and state laws require parity for mental health coverage — that is, health insurance plans must cover mental health conditions and substance use disorders in the same or a similar way to how they cover medical and surgical services.

All of these are good steps toward overcoming behavioral health challenges, but another major obstacle still can get in the way: the stigma that too many people hold toward those with addiction or mental illness.

The unfounded belief that mental illness and addiction are the result of character flaws — that people are to blame for their own illness — causes many people with behavioral health issues to try to hide them and discourages them from seeking treatment that could make them better. For some, the stigma is strictly internal but equally destructive. The most generous employee assistance program in the world won’t do much good if people aren’t willing to use it.

That’s why the Ohio Business Roundtable is proud to be part of the Ohio Opioid Education Alliance, whose new public education campaign takes on stigma directly. Via TV and radio ads, news stories, social media and online publications, the “Beat the Stigma” campaign will stress that addiction and mental illness are biological diseases, rooted largely in genetics and environmental factors outside a person’s control.

The statewide campaign asks Ohioans to do three things:

  • Challenge what you know about addiction and mental illness.
  • Know that a family history of addiction or mental illness is the strongest single predictor of addiction or mental illness..
  • Take care of your mental health, because mental illness can be a trigger for addiction.

The more we can push back against stigma, the more success we’ll have building a healthy workforce to move Ohio forward.

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