Good mental health is fundamental to maintaining good physical health. And you want your employees to experience total worker health, correct?
The fact that the mind and the body cannot be separated results in an inseparable relationship between physical and mental health. Despite the fact that the connections are striking, integration of the two fields in worksite wellness programming still has not occurred in any meaningful way. Worksite wellness practitioners need to better understand the connections between physical and mental health so they can intervene more effectively with employees to improve the outcomes in both areas.
It is important to address the integration of physical and mental health for the following reasons:
• The individual employee’s mental health status or the presence of a mental illness such as depression or anxiety can affect an individual’s ability to undertake health promoting behaviors that address their physical health status. It is therefore critical that individuals have a better understanding of the integral link between all aspects of their health.
• Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer can have a profound impact on an individual’s mental health.
• An individual’s mental health status affects an individual’s ability to participate in their treatment and recovery from a chronic disease.
• Family members and caregivers of people with chronic diseases are also affected psychologically thereby potentially resulting in their neglecting their own health.
Integrating all aspects of health within a worksite wellness program requires partnerships and integration at multiple levels. Integration and partnerships allow the partners to leverage their strengths and resources and to work on common goals. Integration needs to occur at the program level, the policy level, between vendors and potentially between the employer and community based resources.
The elements necessary to support integration include:
• Making the business case through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data on the interrelationships between all aspects of employee health. The data should also show how integration and partnerships can better advance the employer’s core mission and objectives.
• Developing a champion at every level within the organization. While integration requires leadership and motivation from the top, it is best to have a champion at each level to initiate, implement, and sustain the integration.
• Forming an integration management working team to sustain the integration effort. The integration effort cannot be sustained if it is only the work of just a couple of people.
• Developing integrated interventions that are based on identified needs or gaps where positive outcomes and early wins can be achieved. Early on, look for interventions that are simple, targeted, and within the scope of the missions, resources, infrastructures, processes of the partners’ existing program initiatives.
• Monitor, measure and evaluate integrated initiatives by establishing goals, measures and collecting the appropriate data. Evaluation could include process, output and outcome types of evaluation strategies. They could include assessing improvements in access to and satisfaction with care, services, or programming, determining the effect of policy changes on outcomes or services, and making the case for cost-benefit and/or cost-effectiveness.
Programming is one of the key areas where integration can and should be implemented. The four levels we see for physical health programming can also be applied to other health areas as well. These are: awareness, education, lifestyle change and policy/environmental change.
The traditional core physical health programming topics have included physical activity, nutrition, sleep and stress management. These four core programming areas also have implications for mental health as well. This makes the leap to integrated programming real easy. Prevention and self-care activities are also areas where integration can be applied.
Good mental health is fundamental to maintaining good physical health. Ultimately, there is no health without mental health. A worksite wellness program is a necessary and ideal venue to support program integration.