Employers who provide for mental health care may cultivate a better balance sheet as well as a happier lunch room. Rising health insurance costs and harsh social stigmas cause many employers to overlook workers’ mental health needs, but ignoring the problem may cost more than addressing it.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine recently reviewed 103 studies covering mental health and factors such as health care dollars spent; worker productivity, retention and absenteeism; and workplace morale. Certain studies showed that health insurance claims of workers with both mental and physical disorders were 1.7 times higher than those of workers with physical disorders alone.

One factor in the hike may be that many of those suffering from depression and anxiety seek remedy for physical symptoms, leading to expensive tests and treatments. Several other studies found that employees experiencing depression are seven times more likely to be less effective and 2.5 times more likely to miss work than colleagues, depressing a company's bottom line.

According to the reports, the best prescription is “raising awareness and creating a workplace where signs and symptoms are recognized,” states Alan M. Langlieb, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, who led the review. He recommends education programs for employees and supervisors, “much like what is in place for combating high blood pressure and obesity. If we can break down the stigma associated with mental disorders,” he says, employees will come forward more readily and health care professionals will be able to set up evaluations and treatment plans.