Across the world, people are being challenged like never before by COVID-19, and the pandemic’s impact on mental health and psychosocial well-being is significant. The Risk Institute’s most recent session on March 17, 2021, Managing the Exacerbation of Mental Health Issues, took the opportunity to engage in what Executive Director Phil Renaud refers to as a “fireside chat” between four experts in the field. At this pivotal time in the history of mental health, they discussed best practice strategies that individuals, employees, and employers can take to build resilience; the importance of understanding the impact that uncertainty and significant life changes can have on mental health; and the necessity that businesses work towards creating a “culture of care.”
Dr. Anne Wilson, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University, believes that companies need to work hard(er) to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health challenges. And could begin by normalizing taking care of one’s mental health in conjunction with one’s physical health. Mental health is part of our physical health, says Dr. Wilson. She reminds attendees that a mental illness isn’t something that has to impact someone forever, and that taking the steps to address it and learning strategies to cope with it can prevent it from happening in the future.
Companies need to introduce proactive mental health initiatives and when necessary allow employees to take time off, just as they would if presented with a physical health challenge. Dr. Wilson also highlighted how people could play a part in supporting their colleagues’ mental health. For example, if you notice a change in a colleagues’ behavior, you might, in a non-judgmental way, express concern and open up a conversation. You are then in a better position to provide relevant resources, and, in time, follow up with said colleague.
Dr. Jennifer Cheavens, Director of Clinical Training at the Department of Psychology at The Ohio State University, identified how companies can develop a “culture of care” and talked about how that might look. For example, building checking-in into our daily interactions and holding weekly mindfulness table chats. She believes proactive strategies like these, that help build and foster more empathic relationships, will help prevent unexpected issues arising out of the blue. She advises attendees to keep an eye out for disruptions that come with mental health challenges such as changes in behavior, attitude, and how people interact with others.
Dr. Cheavens stresses the significance of building a sense of belonging and promoting a sense of competence in people’s roles within the company. She believes that demonstrating “care” should come from the top, in the form of adequate resources that are promoted by the company, such as: company-wide climate surveys, accommodations for those who need it, and by modeling self-care. Often, people aren’t motivated to seek help from providers until the crisis stage, so practicing wellness – exercise programs, surveys, speakers, book clubs, and the like – can supplement or even divert the need for acute care, one-on-one therapy sessions, or similar more-involved steps.
Jonathan Sadlier, Vice President, Market Leader Central Ohio at Oswald Companies, recognizes that mental health can sometimes require immediate, easily accessible attention and resources. He highlights new technological innovations, such as apps that provide next-level mental health solutions that can reduce wait time.
He stresses the importance of communication, voicing that it’s “one size fits one” when looking at resources for mental health. Employers need to recognize that it is a priority to have a benefit plan in place that is well thought out, easily accessible, and structured in a way that considers the financial implications on employees seeking mental health resources. In relation, it needs to be a plan that does not hinder and/or prevent employees from seeking help, as barriers for seeking care for any type of mental health issue are counterproductive. Sadlier suggests that one strategy companies could consider would be to marry mental health treatment with Employee Assistance Programs where the first three visits are covered free of charge.
Julie Frischkorn, Director of Behavioral Health and Mindfulness at Empower360, a practitioner in the field, reminds us that a silver lining with the pandemic is that a greater awareness, understanding, and acceptance of mental health challenges has evolved. This is coupled with considerable innovation in technology making self-care strategies more widely accessible to greater numbers of people. She points out that even pre-pandemic, generally speaking, much of the workforce felt burnt out and overwhelmed. Frischkorn believes this is related to not only high expectations externally, but also people having high expectations of themselves. She joins the rest of the panel in expressing the importance of taking proactive steps to recognize and address this.
Frischkorn reminds attendees that self-care – or “mental health first aid” – isn’t about practicing one thing that will make us feel better. It’s about holistic strategies that bolster us, scaffold us, and better equip us to face challenges. As of late, the physical distance has created a social and emotional distance, reminding people that they are not alone and having transparent and trust-building conversations – what Frischkorn calls “courageous conversations” – more important than ever. We all have mental health in the same way we have physical health. And Frischkorn says it’s important we learn to use the right language to talk about mental health challenges.
In connection, when people don’t feel seen, it’s particularly important to recognize them; making eye contact and saying thank you, whether with associates at work or frontline workers at home, is the least we can do. Rather than connecting one on one, connecting in smaller groups has a lot of value too. To foster this in a Zoom setting, use the feature of a breakout room, so even in large meetings people can make smaller, more intimate connections with their colleagues.
Register today for The Risk Institute’s April 27, 2021 webinar The Short and Long Term Impacts of the Pandemic on the Labor Market. This webinar will feature Dr. Bruce Weinberg, Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, and Dr. Bill LaFayette, Owner of Regionomics® LLC.
Further down the line, on May 18, 2021, is Exploring the Change in Business and Consumer Behavior, and on June 16, 2021, The Effects of the Wave of Bankruptcies and Consolidations. Further details on these sessions will be announced in the near future.
Written by Jack Delahunty in partnership with The Risk Institute at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business