by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News
Whether COVID-19 rates continue to decline or experience periodic surges, the need to proactively implement comprehensive mental health solutions in the workplace will persist in the coming years, according to local mental health experts.
Employers must recognize the importance of addressing mental health among their employees in the wake of job losses, occupational stress caused by long work hours, and illness and death, said Kimble L. Richardson, a licensed mental health counselor and manager of business development for Community Health Network, Behavioral Health.
“Many people are still a bit traumatized by what happened,” said Richardson, who led emergency response efforts throughout Marion County and surrounding counties as the coordinator of the Resilience and Emotional Support Team (REST). “We initially had to put our emotions on the back burner so that we could just make it through. We need to encourage people to have discussions about mental health being important. It will continue to be important, hopefully ad infinitum, but especially at an intense level for the next several years.”
Jennifer Stansbury Miller, program manager of the Be Well Crisis Helpline, which was launched by Mental Health of America (MHAI) in partnership with the state of Indiana’s Family Social Services and Administration, said that there are no immediate plans to discontinue the helpline, which was implemented in response to the pandemic.
As of March 16, the helpline, which can be accessed by dialing 211, had received 34,561 calls since July of 2020, when it was introduced, and continues to average a significant number of calls daily. During February of 2021, the center received 1,713 calls. In February of 2022, they fielded more than 2,000 calls — an increase of 20.66 percent, Stansbury Miller said.
The spike in numbers can be attributed to numerous reasons, including word-of-mouth about the helpline, increasing awareness or a gap in mental health providers throughout the state, Stansbury Miller said.
“What we have seen overall in the profession is an increase in need for mental health solutions,” Stansbury Miller said. “And when you look at mental health, by definition, it’s emotional and psychological well-being. It’s not necessarily a mental illness. Somebody could just be having a bad day and still need support.”
Similar patterns on mental health have emerged nationally, according to the 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, released by Mind Share Partners in partnership with Qualtrics and ServiceNow. The report, which was a follow up to a report released in 2019, revealed:
- More employees left their jobs for mental health reasons, including those impacted by workplace factors like being overwhelmed with workload. About 68 percent of Millennials and 81 percent of Gen Zers reported leaving their positions for mental health reasons, up from 50 percent 75 percent respectively in 2019.
- 91 percent of survey respondents believed that a company’s culture should support mental health, up from 86 percent in 2019.
- 76 percent of respondents reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, up from 59 percent in 2019.
- C-level and executive-level respondents were more likely to report at least one mental health symptom than other respondents.
Shift in thinking about mental health
While there has been an increasing awareness about the need for mental health solutions, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, significant progress still needs to be made, Stansbury Miller said.
Employers will need to examine their workplace policies as well as increase awareness about the resources that are available, Stansbury Miller said. “In the space of nonprofit employees, public service providers, and companies overall, companies have a role to play in their employees’ resilience and mental health; their well-being overall,” she added.
Richardson said that employers need to shift their thinking about mental health, integrating it as a core part of the organization’s overall health policy.
“The importance of mental health is going to stick around,” he said. “If you don’t pay attention to it, it will show itself to you and it will ask you to pay attention to it — either in losing your staff or having to care for your staff in ways that are expensive. You don’t want your staff to have heart attacks or heart surgery.”
Richardson said employers can take both proactive and reactive approaches to introducing mental health solutions into the workplace, including introducing regular educational sessions on topics like building resilience and other resources tailored to the needs of their employees.
Stansbury Miller also said that employers should examine the workplace culture. “Self-care of the individual at work is everybody’s responsibility,” she said. If emails are going 24/7 after work hours, that is something to look at. It’s important to encourage those at the top to begin a culture of self-care and resilience. For example, make it a policy that there are no emails after a certain time. That’s something small that can make a difference to ensure employees don’t feel tethered to work and can get out and prioritize their mental well-being.”
Stansbury Miller also said that employers can encourage employees to take time off work, engage in self care, and use the benefits offered in the organization’s Employee Assistance Program, which provides confidential mental health services.
In addition to the 24/7 Be Well Crisis Helpline, employers and employees also can explore assessments and resources on mental health, wellness, substance use and recovery at www.bewellindiana.org.
“It’s been hard,” Stansbury Miller said. “As we’re coming off, hopefully, from COVID, we’re going to create these boundaries and fully address the mental health concerns we have seen during the past two years in the state. Folks can focus on improving their emotional well-being, get outside and engage in community, and build the resilience they need.”