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Local Service Partners

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  • 28 May 2024
  • 2 weeks

Is Mental Health Training Included in Your Benefits Package?

Emily Fournier

Marketing and Communications Manager

As the vast majority of Americans (over 90 percent!) are aware, the US is in the midst of a major mental health crisis (just ask Elmo). The national suicide rate is now the highest it’s been since 1941, when the country was just entering WWII. The number of people receiving mental health care has risen by a sharp 38 percent since 2019. One in every three people is experiencing a mental health issue of some kind, be it depression, anxiety, loneliness, burnout, or more “serious” illnesses like bipolar disorder, addiction issues, or schizophrenia. And things have gotten so bad that US surgeons general are now declaring the state of Americans’ mental health as a growing threat to democracy.

But for all the stats that affirm what most Americans apparently believe to be true, and for all their very real causes, how much of this crisis is a self-fulfilling prophecy? A closer look at the numbers suggests quite a lot of it: in a new poll commissioned by NAMI, for instance, nearly three-quarters of employees attested that it is appropriate if not important to talk about mental health at work…but decidedly less (58 percent) said that they would be willing to talk about it themselves. Similarly, while two-thirds of employers admitted that mental health and related issues are top-of-mind concerns in the workplace right now, only half appeared to be doing much of anything about them. And while a recent Mind Share Partners report proclaimed that more than 80 percent of employees were prepared to hold their employers to their alleged commitment to employee health and wellbeing, and leave if they did deliver on their promises, it appears that the status quo is being maintained after all.

What makes these disparities so concerning is the starring role they play in creating and perpetuating the ongoing crisis, contrary to popular opinion which posits that gaps in treatment, prescription drug abuse, and the ongoing shortage of medication are the main culprits behind America’s mental illness epidemic.

As past and current US surgeons general agree, the country cannot (though it may want to) “treat [its] way out of the problem,” given that medical care’s not even half the battle. As the social determinants of health (SDOH) framework conceptualizes, what happens in a doctor’s office, hospital, or treatment center accounts for just 20 percent of all health outcomes. “The other 80 percent,” contends former US surgeon general Dr. Jerome Adams, “happen in communities.”

“[They happen] where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we play and pray, [in] everything that we do,” adds Dr. Regina Benjamin, another former general. As such, these “extraordinarily complex, multifaceted, multilayered experiences” require “everyone, everywhere” to do something about them—which is just not happening.

“It’s the human desire that when there’s a big problem, there will be just [this] big solution that takes care of it,” asserts Cat Moore, the director of belonging at the University of Southern California, in response to a new advisory from current US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. “[But] I think we need to really start thinking of people as the generators [of] solutions in their own lives and to trust them that if they’re given the space and support, they [can] learn what to do when they inevitably experience [mental health challenges].”

Ultimately, Fortune writers Clay Routledge and Andrew Abeyta say it best: “Though we often think about mental health as a personal issue, it has broader societal implications. Mental illness reduces social trust and behaviors that promote societal flourishing…if people don’t adopt a hopeful mindset, they won’t fully utilize their ability to better their lives and address the major challenges we face today.

In other words, the “anti-sociality,” withdrawal, or the “learned helplessness” that mental illness engenders is exactly what keeps us from solving the problem: Without the ambition or ability to act on the very solutions that we’ve conceived (like talking about mental health at work, or creating a lived culture of care and wellbeing at work), they will not ever come to fruition, and the crisis will not be resolved.

“People too often believe that everyone is mean-spirited and selfish and to survive they have to be that way,” Dr. Murthy observes. “[But] people can do a lot to support each other and create an environment that does not add to the mental health crisis.” They can do so by treating others with the same kindness, compassion, empathy, and understanding they themselves long for, by endorsing programs and leaders that reflect their values of generosity and kinship, and by setting an example.

To that end, experts have underscored the need for training to guide employees, their managers, and their leaders on how to lead lives that reflect their commitment to mental wellbeing—at the individual and communal level. While anti-stigma and awareness campaigns are great and are “must-haves” in their own right, awareness alone cannot fix the issue, but can only lead to what we have now: discrepancies between what people think should be done and what they’re doing themselves, and a fatalist perspective on the fate of mental health in the US, if not the world.

Instead, the people who make up one’s organization need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to act on theirs—and their peers’—health and wellbeing needs. Peers, managers, and leaders alike need to learn how to recognize signs of ill-mental health, both in themselves and in those around them. They need to be trained on how to constructively reflect on what they’re noticing, considering what is or isn’t known about the cause of the problem, what risks or safety concerns need to be accounted for before addressing the issue, how they can best confront the problem (or the person facing the problem), and making a plan to do so. And they need to know how to properly and effectively respond, which ultimately requires that them to have the skill of emotional intelligence; for them to be able to listen attentively and without judgment; and for them to be able to take what they’ve learned and what they know—about the nature of the problem, its causes, or its solutions—to collaborate on helpful next steps that the person being helped feels confident and comfortable to pursue.

By partnering with a wellbeing solutions provider, organizations can gain access to professional training support that can help facilitate this transformation of employees, managers, and executives into effective community leaders.

Through such an investment, employees can have the opportunity to participate in on-site or virtual learning events focused on a number of key health components, including:

  • Emotional triggers
  • Sustaining a healthy mind
  • Calming the anxious mind
  • Recovering from compassion fatigue
  • Preventing burnout
  • Maintaining work-life balance
  • Effectively communicating
  • Recognizing and responding to mental illness
  • Cultivating a resilient mindset, and more…

During these learning events, employees may also have the opportunity to engage directly with peers, accelerating the transfer of knowledge, insights, and ideas, and creating a close-knit work culture grounded in compassion, care, kindness, and friendship. As a result of these experiences, employees may walk away feeling more equipped or willing to talk about their own mental health at work, to seek help when facing a mental health challenge, or to take action and support a peer who appears to be struggling.

Likewise, access to unlimited consultations with accredited specialists and training sessions on how to lead, intervene, and build resilience among staff in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, can inform leaders, HR, and all people managers on exactly how and why mental illness or emotional health issues manifest in the workplace, and how they can respond in the most effective and appropriate way. This includes coverage of core competencies like:

  • Understanding the role of anxiety caused by uncertainty and ambiguous conditions
  • Understanding the signs and symptoms of trauma caused by a VUCA environment or world
  • Understanding the impact of global, regional, or organizational change on employee wellbeing and how to best navigate change within teams
  • Identifying and addressing psychosocial risks in the workplace
  • Identifying and managing interpersonal conflicts
  • Understanding and implementing risk-mitigation procedures
  • Understanding and implementing assessments to gauge employee wellbeing and other key metrics

And lastly, by partnering with a wellbeing solutions provider, employers may also be able to collaborate with consulting teams who can help identify unique challenges or risks facing an organization and develop tailored strategies for resolving them. With years of industry experience specific to the client’s needs and background, these consultants can speak directly to the mental, physical, and practical health challenges disrupting both employees’ professional and personal lives, and on what needs to be done inside the workplace to minimize or altogether alleviate them, and thus create a safer, healthier, and supportive environment for all.

As many in this country know all too well, the problems that have cropped up just in the last few years—namely, the uncertainty and anxiety about the future and the instability and insecurity we’re faced with now—certainly aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially as the upcoming 2024 Presidential election signifies further change and uncertainty. Treatment gaps are not an overnight fix; neither are medication shortages. If mental health problems—and the people experiencing them—are to be met with relief anytime soon, it has to come from the people around them; the people they live and work amongst, who can extend a helping hand, a listening ear, and a comprehensive show of support.

Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

This content is intended for general information only. It does not provide specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.

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