By Martha Hauser, PHR

During my many years in human resources, I have seen employees terminated for performance  including issues related to mental health or substance abuse. With education and assistance, many of these employees could have kept their jobs.

Before experiencing mental health issues in my own family and working in the industry, I am not sure I fully understood these issues. It is likely that mental illnesses has touched a friend or loved one of yours at some point, too. Stigma and misunderstanding create roadblocks for many employees. It seems the process to discipline and terminate is easier than to better educate ourselves.  

In Oklahoma, $8 billion annually is spent on direct and indirect costs associated with untreated and undertreated mental illness and substance abuse. Oklahoma employers alone spend over $600 million annually in additional medical cost for the 200,000 Oklahoma workers dealing with depression and addiction.

Recovery is possible for many people through mental health and substance abuse services. With increased awareness and help from supervisors, as well as effective use of company EAP (Employee Assistance Program) services, many employees can improve their chances of success in the workplace. Caring alone may be the motivating factor to seek out help.

Over the years, the idea of diversity in the workplace has grown to encompass more than differences in ethnic groups.  Is mental health and substance abuse education becoming the newest diversity issue for employers to address? I think so.