COVID-19 Pandemic and College Life: What Colleges Can Do to Address Student Mental Health Needs

COVID-19 has created a profound effect on all aspects collegiate life and especially on student mental health. It has brought upon a multitude of social, psychological, and safety challenges for students, on top of the high levels of stress that college students are already facing – even in the best of times. For many, the transition from campus life to remote learning has called for many academic, social, and personal changes for most college students – testing students’ ability to cope with change. It is important that colleges and universities continue to monitor and assess the mental health of students as the nation continues to progress through changes.

Here are recommendations scholars who study student mental health recently made on how schools should address the mental health challenges for students brought on by the pandemic.

Continue student advising via telecommunication means. Expand virtual office hours to create easy access for students who are experiencing the normal stress of college life in addition to the irregular learning environment brought about by COVID-19.

Reduce student stress. By taking a creative and flexible approach to Internship opportunities given the new environment.

Help students adapt research projects to the new normal environments. Encourage university career centers to adopt virtual services to assist students in the economic downturn.

University counseling centers should set up options to continue providing college students with counseling services at a distance (i.e., tele mental health counseling). Tele mental health has been found effective in treating anxiety and depressive symptoms and implementing tele mental health will facilitate the delivery of counseling services to address students’ pressing mental health concerns.

• University counseling centers should also provide options for students to join online support groups that enable them to share common concerns and receive social support. Further, university counseling centers and other departments should develop and pass public health messaging onto students, sharing coping resources, and encouraging them to take action to protect their mental health and wellbeing.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Source

Addressing collegiate mental health needs amid COVID-19 pandemic

Psychiatry Res. 2020 Jun; 288: 113003.

Published online 2020 Apr 17. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113003

PMCID: PMC7162776

PMID: 32315885

Yusen Zhaia,? and Xue Dub

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7162776/

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

College Students – A Vulnerable Population for Suicide and Mental Health Issues

September is suicide awareness month. One alarming aspect of suicide is its frequency among young people, particularly college students. Defined as self-injurious behavior aimed at causing one’s death, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people. Annually about 1,000 college students take their own lives. Thousands of their family members are affected by these deaths. Fellow students and faculty are traumatized, and campus life is disrupted. Thousands more commit non-fatal acts of self-harm to deal with extreme emotional pain.

September is also a month when all of America’s colleges and universities are back in session with in-person classes, virtual classes, or some combination of the two. Many continue to offer non-traditional, exclusively on-line programs of study for students who can earn degrees entirely via on-line instruction. But for many traditional college students in their late teens and early twenties returning to college is an emotional adjustment and challenge to their wellbeing. Many of these young people are often away from home, family, and friends for the first time – losing connection to the emotional support system they have known all their lives. They’re living with strangers, in a new setting, and working under intense pressure to achieve. Many have had limited experience with the new autonomy that comes with college life. Autonomy that also brings easier access to alcohol and illegal drugs, and new peer pressure. Their ability to adjust to change is challenged. Their interpersonal skills are tested as they develop a new social support system. They must learn to manage stress in this new environment while often coping with loneliness. They do all this with disrupted sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns. Now add in COVID-19. One can hardly imagine a more stressful situation for young people with limited life experience. This adjustment is made much more difficult for about one-fifth of students – those with some underlying mental health or substance abuse condition.

Obviously, college students are a vulnerable population. Vulnerable for suicide as proven by their high rate of death from that cause. But also vulnerable for mental health and substance abuse conditions in general. Especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic with its unusual and additional stresses. College administrators realize their responsibility for student’s mental health and safety but are faced with the dual challenge of reduced budgets and implementing COVID-19 precautions. What can they do to improve student access to mental health and preventative services and to ensure students’ wellbeing? Here are some suggestions:

  • Survey students and parents. Ask them about their mental health issues, needs, and expectations for campus support.
  • Provide accessible campus wellness activities. Activities that build resilience in students and normalize mental health on par with physical health.
  • Provide easy access to behavioral health screening services. Ones that also provide easy access to counselors.
  • Review on-campus student counseling center’s services, hours of operation, and accessibility. Is there a “waiting list” for services? Is 24/7 access to a counselor available for students with urgent needs? Are services being delivered in culturally competent way?
  • Train students, faculty, administrators, staff, and campus police in mental health first aid.
  • Offer a comprehensive suicide awareness and prevention program for students.
  • Engage rising first-year student early on with supportive services. Services that help him/her bridge the social and emotional transition from high school to college.
  • Include mental health of students in on-line educational programs. (There are about 500 nationally.) Do these students have equal access to your institution’s mental health services? Are their unique needs being addressed?
  • If you have fiduciary responsibilities for student and faculty health and wellbeing, examine your own attitudes and beliefs about sensitive issues like mental health, suicide, and emotional wellbeing. Make sure you recognize your own biases (it’s okay, we all have biases) and recognize how they influence your actions.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Sources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm?s_cid=mm6932a1_w

Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69:57–62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1external icon.

Suicide is the Second Leading Cause of Death Among College Students

https://www.safecolleges.com/suicide-second-highest-cause-of-death-among-college-students/

National Center For Education Statistics

https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/tables/201314_Virtual_Schools_table_3.asp

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Out With The Old, In With The New. What That Means For Mental Health Care.

If you’re an employer or in HR at your company, you may have noticed something disturbing in your company’s health care expenses.  Expenses for mental health care are going up.  That trend started happening prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic has just added fuel to the fire.

What you may not have noticed is that mental health issues are affecting other expenses as well.  One of those expenses is the cost related to employee turnover.  According to a 2019 study by Mind Share Partners, Qualtrics and SAP, half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left a job for mental health reasons.  And that was before the extraordinary levels of stress and anxiety being reported since the beginning of the pandemic.  

Why am I just referring to millennials and Gen Z ? Because the incidence of mental health problems with these generations is much higher than all prior generations.  As these generations become a larger segment of the workforce, the expense burden of mental health care will get heavier for businesses to bear.

Let’s look at what’s behind this trend and what employers need to do about it.

Mental Health Care and Younger Generations

As reported last year by CNBC, the Mind Share Partners study was one of many studies that shows that the younger generations suffer more from mental illnesses.  Per the CNBC report, younger people dealt with a mental illness at about three times the rate of the general population. The findings are corroborated by another recent study, which shows that while the amount of serious psychological distress increased across most age groups, the largest increase between 2008 and 2017 was among adults ages 18–25, at 71%. For adults ages 20–21, the figure was 78%.

Another recent study, by the American Psychological Association, found the percentage of young adults experiencing certain types of mental health disorders has increased significantly in the past decade. In particular, the percentage of people dealing with suicidal thoughts increased 47 percent from 2008 to 2017.

Why Are Younger Generations Experiencing More Mental Health Issues?

There is no agreement among experts as to the reason for this troubling trend. Here are three different opinions from an author, research professor and psychologist who have studied the subject.

As reported on CNBC, Jean Twenge, author of iGen, a book about the effect technology has on this generation, says that “the rise of the smartphone and social media have at least something to do with it.”

Twenge noted how teens and young adults are spending less time face-to-face with others and more time on their screens. “The pattern lines up very precisely that the majority of Americans owned a smartphone from the beginning of 2012 to 2013,” she said. She noted that at that time, mental health issues began to spike.

“Less time sleeping, less time on face-to-face interactions is not a formula for better mental health,” added Twenge.

Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, said that it’s not social media or young people’s fractured attention spans that are causing their anxiety; it is school itself.

According to Gray, since the mid-1950s society has gradually taken away children’s internal locus of control (someone with an internal locus of control is likely to believe that both successes and failures are due to their own efforts).

As a result, many young people today are lost. “Since the mid-1950s, when they began taking  away children’s play, people haven’t learned to take control of their own lives.” Gray said that control is essential to ward off excessive anxiety.

A third perspective comes from Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist.  Haidt and Greg Lukianoff explored the subject in  The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Lukianoff noticed that many Generation Z college students seemed to hold beliefs that make them vulnerable to depression and anxiety—beliefs that often fly in the face of the best-tested wisdom from the ancients. “The small percentage of ideas that came down to us from the ancients came through a filtering process where only the best, most resonant, most helpful ideas made it down through thousands of years,” said Haidt.

Haidt cited the “Three Great Untruths” that seem to be driving mental health struggles in Gen Z:

  1. You are fragile. Haidt said it was as though students were led to believe that “if they encountered something that was offensive to them, they would be made weaker by it.” This belief is the opposite of the timeless truth that strength comes through managing life’s challenges, captured in Nietzsche’s maxim, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  2. If you feel it, it must be true. Students seemed to have learned that “they should always trust their feelings,” said Haidt. This belief flies in the face of wise counsel that teaches that our feelings are unreliable sources of information. Learning to question our automatic emotional reactions is an invaluable skill in navigating life, and our relationships in particular.
  3. Life is about Us versus Them. Haidt also said that many students seem to believe “they should see life as a battle between good people”—those who agree with them—”and evil people”—those who hold opposing beliefs.

Taken together, these three beliefs led many students—especially at elite colleges and universities—to see themselves as the fragile protagonists in a battle against evil. Haidt described how these beliefs set up students for depression and anxiety.  “The country is facing rising rates of anxiety, depression and fragility among today’s teens and college students, many of whom have been surrounded by protective adults their entire lives. What will happen when they enter the real world?” Those students studied by Haidt have been entering into the real world as part of your workforce.

What Should Employers Do?

End Mental Health Stigma

First and foremost, employers need to take the lead in reducing the stigma of mental health.  Approximately 40% of people suffering from anxiety or depression don’t come forward for care due to mental health stigma.  Developing a culture of openness and acceptance begins at the top.

Fran Katsoudas, chief people officer at Cisco, recalled that after the deaths of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade last year, the company’s CEO, Chuck Robbins, sent out a company-wide email addressing the issues of mental health and suicide.

Robbins encouraged employees to “talk openly and extend compassion” and asked that they “have each other’s backs.”

Katsoudas said the response from Robbins’ email was unlike anything the company had ever seen before. “This was a conversation that our employees wanted to have — and not only the conversation, but they needed support.”

As a follow up, one of the first things Cisco did was launch #SafetoTalk, which it calls the first virtual community for employees to come forward and connect weekly with others to share their struggles.

Train Managers

Managers need to be trained on mental health awareness.  They need to recognize the danger signs and know what to do if they believe an employee is in trouble.  Your EAP should be able to help you with this and if not call us at Espyr.

Make Mental Health Care Accessible 

According to one survey, 60% of employees fail to use mental health resources available to them by employers.  Much of this may be due to mental health stigma, but there are other factors as well.  Many programs are poorly promoted so that employee awareness is low.   Accessibility is another issue.  Gen Z ,and to a lesser degree millennials, are digital citizens.  Smartphones are their primary means of communication.  Phone, text and video access options need to be available especially during the pandemic when face to face sessions with a mental health coach or counselor may not be practical or even available.

Use Your Available Resources

Most businesses have an EAP or similar program in place.  Be sure that your EAP is eager to support employee engagement.  Many businesses take advantage of free EAPs offered as part of a bundled health benefits package provided by their benefits broker.  Unfortunately, free EAPs can only make money if employee utilization remains low.  Encouraging employees to take advantage of their programs is antithetical to the business operations of these EAPs.  A good EAP will not only welcome higher utilization, it will help you promote it.

About Espyr

Espyr’s innovative mental health counseling, coaching and consulting programs have been helping employees and organizations achieve their full potential for over 30 years. Companies in some of the most stressful occupations rely on Espyr to maintain their employees health and well being.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Burnout printed on burning background

Burned Out From Working From Home? Here’s How to Fix It.

Last year, we wrote about how the World Health Organization had officially classified “Burnout” as a legitimate medical diagnosis beginning in 2020.   Since our post last year, COVID-19 has created the equivalent of a tectonic shift in working by moving huge segments of the work force to work from home.  Has that change in work environment resulted in more burnout or less?  Do people get burned out from working from home? 

Burnout has received more attention over the past few years amid a flurry of reports documenting increasing occurrences across various occupations.  Last year a  Gallup study  of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always.   In high stress occupations, burnout rates can soar even higher.   For instance, a Medscape Physician Lifestyle Survey in 2015 reported the rate of physician burnout at 46%.   But, burnout can affect anyone regardless of their occupation.

 

Burnout printed on burning background

The number of people working from home had been steadily growing anyway, but with COVID-19 the percentage skyrocketed. In 2017, 5.2% of US adults worked from home on a regular basis.  In March, 2020, that number had grown to 51% of employed US adults according to a Harris Poll in early April. It’s likely that the work at home number has receded somewhat as employers reopened offices, though the recent spikes across the country in COVID cases may send more workers back home.  Regardless, many Americans’ are still working from home and it’s likely that a significant number of them will continue to work from home even after the pandemic is in our rear view mirror. (Yes, eventually the pandemic will be behind us!)

What is burnout? 

With so many of us working from home, we wondered whether burnout is more or less of an issue than it was a year ago?  To answer that question, let’s first understand what we mean by burnout.  According to the WHO, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The diagnosis is limited to work environments, and shouldn’t be applied to other life situations. 

It’s important to note that burnout is not just a mental health issue.  Major health risks that have been associated with job burnout include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.

Is home a “breeding ground” for burnout?

A recent article by Natasha Hinde in the Huffingtonpost in the U.K. explored the issue of burnout for those working at home.  Hinde found that with “working from home the boundaries between work and personal lives are increasingly blurred. When your laptop is always within reach, it’s all too easy to check emails at 9 or 10 PM and easy to skip lunch when you’re buried in a project.”

“Working from home provides little opportunity for variety in your working day,” says Lucy Fuller, a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist. “There’s little chance for face-to-face, non-work social interaction and it comes with an intensity that would usually be broken up by traveling and dawdling on your way to work, in your lunch period and also going to meetings outside your place of work.

“Our days are therefore becoming grey and our brains are burning and clouding from sitting in front of a screen for so long. We’re effectively trapped in this way of work without a definite end point to look forward to.”

Psychotherapist Philip Karahassan, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, doesn’t think people know they can burn out while working from home – “people usually see it as a more relaxing work day, where they can do work at their own pace” – which might mean they’re hurtling headfirst into it.

How to Prevent Burnout

In another blog from last year we wrote about how to prevent burnout.   Our advice last year holds true today regardless of where you’re working.

1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.  Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

2. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  Look into the many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

3. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

4. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

5. Identify a good manager

In the Gallup study on stress and burnout quoted earlier, employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

6. Keep good health habits

The same basic advice that will help in relieving stress is also true for burnout: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.

7. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

To this list, Hinde adds one more piece of advice that is specific to working from home:  setting boundaries.  “Create a specific area just for work and separate from personal life even if it’s only a corner of a room.   Set boundaries with the people around you, too.”  Of course, that can be more challenging with small children at home, but not impossible.   “Make clear what times you’ll be working and when you can spend time with them – and stick to that routine.”

Another great idea that Fuller adds is to think about how to create commute-type divides into your working day. “In normal circumstances we have a natural divide, which is your commute, but we now have to create our own transition,” says Fuller. “This might be doing exercise, putting music on that you love or taking a bath. “Whatever it is, use the activity to shake off your day and draw a line under your work to move into your leisure time.”

What if you already feel burned out?

Between working at home, social isolation and pandemic induced anxiety, we are all facing an unprecedented level of stress.  Your work and your health may be suffering as a result.  What if you’re already burned out from working at home?  Here’s what to do.

Take a break

Stop, get away from your many screens and tell yourself you’re doing a great job.  “Take a break outside of your home environment,” suggests Karahassan.  Go for a walk, preferably outdoors. And if you’re fortunate enough to live near a wooded area or forest, walk there. Exposure to forests strengthens your immune system, reduces blood pressure, increases energy, boosts your mood and helps you regain and maintain focus.  The Japanese call it “shinrin-yoku” or “forest bathing.” Even 20 minutes in a forested space is enough to produce positive changes in the body. “If you can’t go out, go in the shower, wash your face, just do something for you. That five or 10-minute break can give you the space to reset and take control of your thoughts and feelings,” Karahassan says.

Indulge in something that brings you joy

Take some personal play time.  Reconnect with old friends.  Read a book.  Listen to music.  Whatever it is, “Turn off your work screen and indulge yourself in something that brings you joy,” adds Fuller. “You won’t regret it.”

Take care of yourself physically

Avoid unhealthy vices like smoking and drinking and instead try to do things for your mental wellbeing – do some exercise, connect with loved ones, prioritize self-care, sign up to volunteer, and try to work smarter (not harder), says Hinde.

Practice mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness can help you live in the moment rather than thinking about the next Zoom meeting on your calendar. And practicing gratitude can promote feelings of positivity – write down three things that went well today, or for which you’re grateful.

Breathe

Breathing exercises are useful when things feel too much, so take five minutes out of your day, sit comfortably somewhere, and focus on your breath.

If these remedies don’t work, consider consulting with your employer’s EAP or wellness program, or discussing your feelings with your physician.  Don’t try to gut it out alone.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping people achieve and maintain good mental health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s innovative coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy programs to maintain employee health and well-being. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

How Do I Know if I Have PTSD?

We often get asked the question, ” I’m having some of the symptoms of PTSD.  How do I know if I have PTSD?” The only way to know for sure if you have PTSD is to talk to your physician or a mental health care provider. He or she will ask you about your trauma, your symptoms, and any other problems you are having. If you think you might have PTSD, answer the questions in the screening tool below. Keep in mind that this tool is offered for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

PTSD Screening

Sometimes things happen to people that are unusually or especially frightening, horrible, or traumatic. For example, a serious accident or fire, a physical or sexual assault or abuse, an earthquake, flood, tornado or hurricane, a war, seeing someone be killed or seriously injured, or having a loved one die through homicide or suicide.

Have you ever experienced this kind of event? Yes / No

If yes, please answer the questions below.

In the past month, have you:

  • Had nightmares about the event(s) or thought about the event(s) when you didn’t want to?
  • Tried hard not to think about the event(s) or went out of your way to avoid situations that reminded you of the event(s)?
  • Been constantly on guard, watchful, or easily startled?
  • Felt numb or detached from people, activities, or your surroundings?
  • Felt guilty or unable to stop blaming yourself or others for the event(s) or any problems the event(s) may have caused?

If you answered “yes” to 3 or more of these questions, please talk to a mental health care provider to learn more about PTSD and PTSD treatment. Answering “yes” to 3 or more questions does not mean you have PTSD. Only your physician or mental health professional can tell you for sure if this is what you are experiencing.

Also, please keep in mind that regardless of your score on this educational screening, if you are having thoughts and feelings about some recent traumatic event or one that took place long ago and these thoughts and feeling are troubling you, or if you are concerned about your use of alcohol or other drugs, speak with a mental health professional.

June 2020 is PTSD Awareness Month. To learn more about PTSD’s symptoms and its effective treatments, please visit our blog post here, or visit The National Institute of Mental Health or The National Center for PTSD

Educational Survey was adopted from:

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/publications/print/understandingptsd_booklet.pdf

About Espyr

Espyr’s innovative mental health solutions, coaching and assistance programs have been helping employees and organizations achieve their full potential for 30 years. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

How To Realize The Benefits of Mental Health

Our society has come a long way in overcoming the stigma of mental health.  Most people now recognize the importance of mental health and how common mental health disorders are.   However, the the stigma of mental health remains among us.  Furthermore, knowing how to realize the benefits of mental health is still not well understood by many.

Mental Health Awareness Month was conceived for just those purposes – eliminating the stigma of mental health, creating greater awareness of mental health issues and helping people realize the benefits of mental health.

We found a recent article by Kelly Miller, BA, CAPP in PositivePsychology.com especially helpful in addressing all of these issues and a summary of her writing follows.

The Benefits of Mental Health

The benefits of intentionally practicing to improve mental health are a response to the chronic stress reported at epidemic levels around the world. Chronic stress has been proven to deteriorate the hippocampus (McLaughlin, 2007). This stress also leads to decreased concentration and memory, confusion, loss of sense of humor, anger, irritability, and fear. Obviously, stress is not good for the brain, and improved mental health practices can reduce the risk.

Other benefits of mental health include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Reduction in anxiety.
  • Improved moods.
  • Clearer thinking.
  • A greater sense of calm or inner peace.
  • Increased self-esteem.
  • Reduced risk of depression.
  • Improvements in relationships.

The development of practical coping skills has never been more necessitated in this ever-changing world. Rather than continuing to simply soldier on, a focus on thriving through adversity is where mental health benefits can be achieved.

Fitness and Mental Health

Improved mental health has been well documented with the introduction of improved levels of physical fitness.  The fitness industry has decades of research showing the benefits of taking special and intentional care of one’s body. The concept of being mentally healthy is not necessarily new, but it certainly has more areas of growth in scientific research. This is likely because historically, medicine has studied what was wrong so that it could be cured.

A more recent approach to physical and mental well-being has been prevention. Exercise is a preventative activity for both physical and mental health. When you strengthen your body, there is less pain in aging. The same can be said for strengthening our mental health.

Benefits of mental health through physical fitness include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Sharper memory.
  • Clarity in thinking.
  • Higher self-esteem.
  • Better sleep.
  • Increased energy.
  • Stronger resilience.
  • Increased BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which improves neurotransmission.

Counseling

Counseling has, unfortunately, had a stigma attached. The medical model was developed to fix what was “broken.” People receiving counseling are not broken. Human beings are malleable and can rewire themselves. A professional counselor can help with this plasticity by allowing the release of painful or unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

Potential Benefits of Counseling:

  • Improvement in communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Greater self-acceptance.
  • Increased self-esteem.
  • Improved self-expression and management of emotions.
  • Relief from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
  • Clarity.

Coaching

Coaching is another area where practitioners can increase the benefits of mental health. While coaching is not therapy, it can be very therapeutic. Having a trained coach can create areas of growth that clear the way for massive personal improvement.

At Espyr, we’ve seen firsthand the benefits of coaching for many of our clients.  For many clients, counseling is either not necessary or viewed with stigma attached. Coaching is deemed more socially acceptable and fits perfectly  for situations where counseling is not required.

Potential Benefits of Coaching:

  • Learning acceptance and self-appreciation
  • Improved connection with self and others
  • Simplifying life
  • Reduced stress
  • Harmony and peace
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Reduction in isolation
  • Improvements in relationships
  • Improved communication
  • Overcoming procrastination
  • Gaining work and or life satisfaction
  • Increased self-reliance
  • Improved decision making
  • Mindset shifts
  • Increased self-worth
  • Improved time management skills

A Look at the Research

Exercise may be one of the most underused treatments for improving mental health. Research has shown that patients suffering from depressive or anxiety sensitive disorders benefit significantly from increased exercise interventions (Smits, 2008).

The research has not determined which type of exercise is the most beneficial for mental health. Aerobic exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system but also releases serotonin to improve mood. However, weight training and mind spirit practices like yoga show great benefits as well.

Journaling is another powerful tool used as an intervention in many different areas of well being. The benefits can be seen not only in mental, but also physical wellness. Research has shown improvement in breast cancer patient recovery through the use of journaling.

Adolescent use of reflective journaling has shown increases in self-efficacy, self-regulation, and self-motivation. Reflective journaling has also been used to the great benefit of those working to overcome addiction.

The use of a journal offers a space to release inner fears and stress as a reflective process. The reduction of stress and unwanted negative thoughts are benefits that are seen through consistent practice. Journaling has also been proven to improve critical thinking skills.

There is a limited amount of empirical research in the area of coaching. However, concerning men, coaching has had significant forward progress. Men tend to seek help less actively than women (McKelley, 2007) but are more likely to seek coaching due to the reduced stigma attached. While coaching is not therapy, it can benefit participants with clarity, perspective shifts, and improvements to motivation in all areas of life.

5 Things You Can Do To Realize The Benefits Of Mental Health

1. Move your body

If more people knew the benefits of exercise on avoidance of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, more people would be running to join a local gym. Exercise helps increase ROS (reactive oxygen species), resulting in decreases in the incidence of oxidative stress-related diseases (Deslandes, 2009). All disease has links to inflammation. Regular exercise increases the body’s ability to reduce that inflammation, therefore, slowing the aging process.

Start small and grow your exercise practice slowly and consistently. Jumping in with excessive weight training or aerobic exercise can be harmful and lessen the willingness to continue with the practice. A slow, steady increase in levels of activity is highly recommended. Nobody becomes The Rock overnight.

2. Counseling

When thoughts and feelings are interfering with your daily life, advice can be very helpful. Navigating trauma, depression, and anxiety, or other strains on mental health is complicated. Doing it alone makes it even more so. Reaching out for help from a professional doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re ready to start getting stronger.

3. Coaching

People come to coaching for a variety of reasons. Coaches specialize their practices, just as counselors do, to best serve their clients. Seeking the services of a coach can help clients realize their power in their actions and generate motivation to move from A to B, while space is held by a trained professional.

4. Journaling

There are a million ways to start a journaling practice. Keeping track of thoughts, actions, and motivations can be very powerful when actively reflecting on personal change. It helps adults and children alike. It also shines a light on daily actions and whether one is being honest with oneself.

5. 12 Intentional Activities

Engaging in the activities that come most naturally to a practitioner are specific ways to improve mental health. The benefits are outlined in The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubmorisky. The “how” is always an individual approach but highly beneficial when intentionally focused.

  • Savor life
  • Nurture social relationships
  • Express gratitude
  • Commit to your goals
  • Create coping strategies
  • Practice acts of kindness
  • Engage in flow experiences
  • Cultivate optimism
  • Practice spirituality
  • Take care of your mind and body
  • Learn to forgive
  • Avoid over-thinking and social comparison

A Take-Home Message

The first step in realizing the benefits of mental health is recognizing the need for improvement. We all have work to do. There is no human (not even the Dalai Lama) who can say that they have achieved perfection in mental health. All humans face adversity, yet our ability to handle that adversity can grow like a muscle.

The benefits of mental health far outweigh the effort it takes to begin a practice for improvement. Whether it’s grabbing a friend to start a walking practice, or heading off to the store to pick out a notebook to start your journaling practice, you can begin today. We are all one decision away from the many benefits of mental health.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy  programs  to maintain employee health and well-being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.

 

Family enjoying video game together

Maybe It Should Be National Happiness Month

May is national Mental Health Awareness Month.  It’s an opportunity for Americans to become more aware of how important good mental health is to us as individuals and to our society overall.  But how many of us think of mental health that way?  For many, the words mental health have a negative connotation and are often something  people feel uncomfortable talking about.

Let’s think of mental health in a different way.  What if May was Happiness Awareness Month? Now do I have your attention?  Good, because mental health and personal happiness and well-being are connected.  Personal investments in our mental health pay personal happiness dividends, while investments in mental health by employers, colleges and public policy makers pay societal dividends.  

Mental Health Basics

So let’s all get on the same page when we talk about mental health. 

First, it’s a part of all of us. Mental health is a term that includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life and life’s age-old companion, “stress”.  Importantly, it also helps determine how we handle these inevitable stresses, how we relate to our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, classmates and others,  the choices we make, how productive we are academically and in our occupations and professions as we strive to reach our full potential. Mental health is vitally important at every stage of life, from childhood to old age.

Mental Health vs. Mental Disorders

Second, while mental health is not an illness condition, mental disorders are.  Mental health disorders are common, affecting about 1 in 5 Americans annually, while nearly 3 out of 4 adults report at least one stress-related symptom (like stress induced headaches or feelings of being overwhelmed or of being very lonely). They can also be serious conditions that affect our mood, distort our thinking and change our behavior. They can be influenced by our particular life circumstances- like growing up in poverty or being a survivor of childhood trauma or intimate partner violence or experiencing unexpected life events like a divorce or sudden job loss.   They affect all ages, genders, races and socio-economic groups.  Only a narcissist thinks themselves invulnerable. And that’s a mental health condition too!

 

Sad looking woman

 

The Consequences of Poor Mental Health

Thirdly, poor mental has many negative consequences for individuals, economies and societies. One consequence is the impact on our physical health. Poor mental health increases one’s risk for Cancer, Heart ailments, Strokes, Diabetes and many other conditions.  These are costly conditions to treat and often diminish one’s happiness and quality of life.  One condition, Major Depression, is highly associated with suicide, the second leading cause of death among young people.  More Americans commit suicide each year than all who die in motor vehicle accidents or by gun violence.  

 

Mental Health conditions also often co-occur with medical conditions.  The mental health condition frequently complicates treatment plans and compliance with medical treatment.  The costs of medical treatment for patients with both serious mental health and physical conditions is 2 to 3 times higher than those without co-occurring conditions. Aside from the human suffering, these financial costs are borne by individuals through high out-of-pocket expenses and higher healthcare insurance rates, by employers who provide healthcare benefits to employees and pay taxes, and by taxpayers who pay for Medicaid and Medicare benefits.  There is a myriad of other consequences of poor mental health.  These  include the negative impacts on one’s livelihood or business, on our academic achievements, and on our ability to be productive member of society.

 

Maintaining Good Mental Health In The Time of COVID-19

Back to Happiness… there is a lot of good news even in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many things we can each do to promote and sustain our mental health and that of our children and loved ones. These include making time for regular exercise (this is a great stress reduction tool), practicing mindfulness and gratitude, making sure to make time to enjoy relaxation, hobbies or activities, staying connected to friends and social and spiritual groups ( while maintaining social distancing of course), and moderating your exposure to media and the 24/7 news cycle.

 

Family enjoying video game together

 

Good News For Those Experiencing Emotional Distress

Modern evidence-based treatments have never been more effective and available than today. Resources such as a healthcare provider, primary care doctor or mental health therapist can provide consultation and treatment. Employee Assistance Programs and hotlines help connect people to the right treatment resources. Self Help and Support groups of various kinds, as well online resources and helpful mental health apps have proliferated.  Many businesses, like Kaiser Permanente for instance, are taking a lead in promoting good mental health practices in the workplace and in normalizing discussions of mental health just as happens with physical health.  School systems have adopted anti-bullying initiatives. Colleges provide Student Assistance Programs to support student health and address the crisis of suicide in young adults.  The list goes on and on.  

Still, more awareness and sensitivity to mental health issues is needed and Mental Health Awareness Month is a great step toward that goal.   If you know someone that is struggling with stress, depression or anxiety, be aware that you may be their best resource.  You do not have to be a mental health professional nor offer solutions.  Just be a trusted listener who first asks, “How are you doing, and can we talk about it”?  Your supportive questions and compassionate listening may well help that person take their first step to getting the help they need.

Here is a list of some of the many free resources or sources of more information about Mental Health.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy  programs  to maintain employee health and well-being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.

 

Coronavirus Anxiety is Spreading Fast

Thanks to the widespread and constant media coverage, we all know the factors that facilitate infectious pandemics like coronavirus (COVID-19). A rise in long-distance travel, increased international exchange and global climate changes are just some of the guilty parties helping the spread of disease across our planet faster than ever.

We also know how to minimize our risk of infection – washing hands properly, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home if sick, keeping surfaces clean and staying away from sick people.

According to a Psychiatric Times article, however, that same informative media coverage is also responsible for panic, stress and the potential for hysteria. Pandemics are not just a medical phenomenon; they can be the cause of anxiety-related behaviors, sleep disturbances and an overall lower perceived state of health, especially in individuals already suffering from mental illness.

How Many are Affected?

It’s still too early to know exactly how many are suffering from mental or emotional problems as a result of the most recent pandemic. But take note of how aware you have become of washing your hands, touching surfaces or getting on a plane. For most of us, these things are much more top-of-mind than they were just weeks ago.

There has been some research, however. In February, according to Bloomberg Opinion, the Chinese Psychology Society surveyed 18,000 asking if they felt anxiety related to the coronavirus outbreak. Almost 43% said yes.

Asian students wearing masks to protect themselves from coronavirus

What About Patients and Healthcare Workers?

Not surprisingly, the closer people are to the infection – like coronavirus patients, families of patients and healthcare workers – the greater the anxiety and overall mental toll. 

Quarantine is a prudent and necessary response to any viral outbreak, a critical step towards slowing the spread of the virus and providing valuable time to prepare. Yet, as also stated in Bloomberg Opinion, this isolation is usually accompanied by unwelcome (and under-reported) side effects, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress (or PTSD). After the SARS outbreak of 2002/2003, researchers identified how these events can take a mental toll on both patients and medical staff.

  • A study of 233 SARS survivors in Hong Kong found that 40% had “active psychiatric illness” years after the outbreak, including PTSD, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • 2006 study of 549 employees of a Beijing hospital that treated SARS patients found that 10% exhibited symptoms of PTSD.

Whether for patients, healthcare workers or the public at large, it’s clear that mental health care and treatment needs to be an integral part of the coronavirus recovery process. Long-term psychological effects could become the infection’s longest-lasting legacy.

How Can I Help My Employees Right Now?

When faced with situations that are uncertain and that we can’t control, it is normal to feel more anxious. Here are some helpful tips we provide to our clients to give to their employees, gathered from our team of coaches and counselors, as well as sources such as National Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal:

 

  • Manage Information – Find a credible, trusted source of information like the CDC website (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), your state public health agency or your primary care physician. Stay informed so you’re aware of current information like precautions, warnings or quarantines – but be careful about overloading on information as that can increase feelings of anxiety. Checking your trusted news source once or twice a day should provide the information you need.
  • Plan Ahead – Often, our anxiety increases when we feel a loss of control. While we can’t control if we come in contact with coronavirus, there are some things we can control – like planning ahead. Make plans now for how you would address childcare and work if you or other family members were to get sick or schools/business would close. Talk to your doctor about any prescription medications that may require refills. And take an inventory of non-perishable groceries and over-the counter medications you may want on hand.
  • Stay Connected – Talking to family and friends can be very helpful in relieving stress and anxiety (during a pandemic, or anytime).
  • Maintain Your Routine – Continuing to do the things as usual – like exercise and going to bed at the same time – are helpful in creating a sense of normalcy which helps reduce stress. 
  • Get a Good Night’s Sleep – Research shows many benefits of a good night’s sleep, including reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Breathe – Regularly practicing relaxation techniques – deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, etc. – can help reduce stress and anxiety. Taking a break and engaging in an activity you enjoy, like watching a favorite show or playing a game, can also help.
  • Take Basic Precautions – Take the recommended precautions to help stay healthy – wash your hands for 20 seconds, avoid touching your face and avoid contact with those who are sick. Not only do these things reduce your chances of infection, they can help you feel more in control.

What About Employees Who Need More Help?

Psychological effects of a pandemic are wide-ranging, and many need help beyond dealing with a little extra anxiety. This is where Espyr comes in. Through our industry-leading coaching, counseling and assistance programs, Espyr has been helping employees maintain good physical and mental health for 30 years. 

One such program is iResolve, a service that is included in every Espyr Employee Assistance Program (EAP). With iResolve, employees can access unlimited and immediate help as easy as making a phone call. There’s no appointment necessary, and employees will speak to one of our licensed professional counselors, coaches or clinicians.  

iResolve helps employees build resilience and develop coping strategies for dealing with uncertainty. Furthermore, it promotes connectedness and strengthening of support networks when social distancing measures are suggested.

Thanks to Espyr and iResolve, employers are able to provide employees with the help they need, whether due to coronavirus anxiety, other mental health issues or work-related problems. 

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health solutions, offering employers a variety of innovative products and services designed to maximize human and organizational potential. 

For more information on how Espyr can help your company provide for the mental health of your employees, call 888-570-3479 or click here. 

The Role of Mental Health in Professional Driver Talent Management

The transportation industry is one of many industries where employee mental health is becoming a growing concern.  Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer, Norman Winegar, recently participated in an HR/Talent Management roundtable discussion at Accelerate Conference and Expo sponsored by Women in Trucking.  Mr. Winegar documented his discussion points in the byline article below.  While the roundtable was specific to professional drivers, Mr. Winegar’s observations and recommendations could apply to employee mental health in virtually any industry.

The Role of Mental Health in Talent Management

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, ACSW, NCAC II, DOT Qualified SAP

Few people in the transportation industry would argue with the statement that professional driving can be a very unhealthy occupation.  Physically, the long hours sitting behind the wheel, lack of exercise (or for many OTR drivers little physical movement at all) and easy access to unhealthy food and drinks all take their toll on driver health.

Truck driver smoking and eating fast food

However, what often goes unnoticed is the condition of professional driver mental health.  The professional driver lifestyle – social isolation, the cumulative stress associated with safely handling an 80,000 pound vehicle through traffic, separation from family and the related issues that extended family separation creates – can lead to serious mental health conditions.  The severity of those mental health conditions is obvious in statistics like these:

  • 6 percent of truckers suffer from some level of depression, nine times higher than the national average.
  • Trucking is one of the top eight occupations for suicide according to the CDC.

Loneliness is a big challenge for drivers.  Some studies report that drivers say that loneliness is their main source of distress. Loneliness can lead to many unhealthy behaviors including premature death.  Referring to loneliness in general, the American Psychological Association has stated that loneliness is just as much of a public health hazard as obesity, it not greater.  Can there be an occupation that encounters more loneliness?

Those that need help most may not ask for it

What makes mental health conditions more challenging for employers – and more costly – is the fact that more than half of those with mental health issues won’t seek treatment. One of the primary reasons? Employees often stay quiet due to the stigma of mental health and concern that co-workers or supervisors will think poorly of them.

The transportation industry needs to focus more on the behavioral health aspects of driver well-being.  Here are three steps to take now:

  1. Remove the stigma of mental health. This starts at the top with C-level executives and the company culture. Drivers need to know that seeking care for mental health issues is not a sign of weakness.
  2. Educate managers on how to recognize the warning signs of mental health disorders and how to reach out to the affected person. Make sure that they know what to do when they encounter those warning signs with their drivers including connecting them with their Employee Assistance Program.
  3. Make mental well-being care easily accessible. Take advantage of your EAP and other wellness programs and ensure drivers know the confidential benefits that are available.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in mental health solutions, offering employers a variety of innovative products designed to maximize human and organizational potential. One of those solutions is Fit to Pass.  Fit to Pass is a coaching program that helps professional drivers achieve a healthier lifestyle.  The program intensifies for the 90 day period prior to a driver’s DOT physical exam, helping drivers pass their exam, retain their CDL and live longer, healthier lives.

To learn more about Fit to Pass or how Espyr’s employee well-being solutions can help you improve talent management in your organization, call us at 888-570-3479 or click here.

 

Mental health sign on workplace desk

30 Years of Change in Workplace Mental Health. What Do Employers Need to Be Doing Now?

October 2019 will mark Espyr’s 30th anniversary. Over those 30 years, we’ve witnessed significant changes in attitudes toward mental health, both by society at large and in the workplace.

We’ve evolved as well, changing from EAP Consultants, a company focused primarily on comprehensive Employee Assistance Programs, to Espyr, a leading provider of behavioral health solutions designed to maximize human and organizational potential.

Compared to our founding 30 years ago, people today are much more aware of the importance of mental health and more open to discussing personal mental health issues. Also, employers are increasingly including mental health benefits as part of their company’s wellness offerings.

Despite all the progress in mental health awareness and understanding however, the stigma of mental health persists. Some studies indicate mental health stigma is even worse now than in the past. Meanwhile, many employers, while they talk about the importance of employee mental health, have not taken the appropriate actions necessary to put mental health on equal footing with physical health.

To illustrate the point, let’s recap the state of mental health and, particularly, mental health in the workplace.

Awareness and Attitudes Toward Mental Health Have Changed

In many ways, people today have a better awareness and understanding of mental health and mental health disorders.

• According to a 2015 article in the Huffington Post, as recently as 1996, more than 50% of the US believed that depression was a sign of personal or emotional weakness. While this specific question has not been tracked over time, recent polls have asked whether seeking treatment for mental health issues is a sign of weakness. Less than 20% of respondents said treatment indicates weakness.

Another study in 2016 compared news stories concerning mental illness from 1995 to 2004, and from 2005 to 2014. Stories in which stigma or discrimination were mentioned as problems increased from 23% (1995-2004) to 28% (2005-2014).

• In a 1996 study, 54% of the US public attributed major depression to neurobiological causes; in 2006, this increased to 67%1. Similarly, the percentage of people endorsing the benefits of treatment by a physician for people with major depression went up from 78% (in 1996) to 91% (in 2006) 1.

• In another study of U.S. adults, only about 25% agreed that people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness 2.

Yet, Mental Health Stigma Still Exists

Just over 25% of US adults – one in four – will suffer from a mental disorder in any given year, including anxiety, depression, impulse control disorder and substance abuse3.

Yet, only about 20% of adults with a diagnosable mental disorder4 or with a self-reported mental health condition5 saw a mental health provider in the previous year. One of the major barriers to seeking help? The embarrassment associated with accessing mental health services.

In an article in May 2019, SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) noted a telling indicator of mental health stigma from a 2019 study done by Unum and the Disability Management Employer Coalition. In this study, 70% of employees who missed work due to mental health issues did not inform their manager that this was the reason. In the same study, 61% felt that there’s a social stigma in the workplace toward colleagues with mental health issues.

In fact, according to several studies, mental health stigma may be actually increasing.

In 2010, Pescosolido and colleagues assessed the stigma around mental illness by comparing findings from a 2006 survey with a similar 1996 survey. They reported an increase in stigma during the 11-year period, adding, “Our most striking finding is that stigma among the American public appears to be surprisingly fixed, even in the face of anticipated advances in public knowledge.”

Previously, the same researchers had compared the public perception of mental illness in 1996 with findings from a similar survey in 1950. They reported that, despite an increased understanding of the causes of mental illness by 1996, stigma had increased. This finding was also reflected in the 1999 Surgeon General’s report on mental health: “Stigma, in some ways, intensified over the past 40 years, even though understanding improved.”

 

Mental health sign on workplace desk

Mental Health in the Workplace

In the battle to combat mental health issues, the workplace is ground zero. Workplace wellness programs can identify at-risk employees and connect them to the appropriate treatment. These programs also have the means to help employees manage stress. In addition, by addressing mental health issues in the workplace, employers can reduce health care costs for their businesses and employees.

The stakes are high. Depression alone costs the US economy an estimated $210 billion per year, and a little under half of the cost is related to lost productivity in the workplace, according to Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.

According to the CDC, mental health issues impact the workplace in multiple ways:

Poor mental health and stress can negatively affect employees in terms of

• Job performance and productivity
• Engagement with one’s work
• Communication with coworkers
• Physical capability and daily functioning

Mental illnesses such as depression are associated with higher rates of disability and unemployment.

• Depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time, and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time6.
• Only 57% of employees who report moderate depression, and 40% of those who report severe depression, receive treatment7.

Mental Health and Physical Health are Connected

Complicating things further, mental health issues often occur along with physical health issues, a phenomenon called comorbidity. 29% of adults with a medical disorder have at least one mental health disorder. And 68% of adults with a mental health disorder have at least one physical health disorder.

Comorbidity makes medical diagnosis and treatment more complicated and more expensive. The costs for treating people with comorbid mental health disorders and physical conditions are two to three times higher than for those without co-occurring illnesses. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, more than 60% of the $210 billion annual cost of depression is actually going to treat medical conditions that often accompany mental health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. In fact, it’s estimated that by combining medical and behavioral health care services, the United States could save $37.6 billion to $67.8 billion a year8.

What Leading Businesses are Doing

Unilever, American Express and Prudential are some of the many companies who are stepping up their efforts to improve employee well-being. These businesses have established comprehensive programs specifically designed to support employee mental health. Unilever also provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological well-being.

General Electric has even taken steps to ensure employees know that the company views no difference between an employee seeking help for opioid addiction or an employee seeking help for cancer. Diana Han, chief medical officer at General Electric, noted that employees engaging in mental health programs are returning to work at a faster rate than unengaged workers. “Days away from work has really been a big win for employees and our business,” she said.

Kaiser Permanente has developed a Mental Health, Wellness and Resiliency Strategy to support company-wide awareness of mental health issues, and to create a stigma-free environment.

Deloitte announced its first Chief Well-Being Officer, Jen Fisher, in 2015. Ms. Fisher launched Deloitte’s Mental Health at Work campaign, which provides mental health training, information and educational opportunities. Deloitte’s employee resource initiatives promote well-being, provide content on how to mitigate stress and practice resilience in the workplace.

Johnson & Johnson has created many internal employee resource groups and programs around mental health. The J&J Mental Health Diplomats – headed by Craig Kramer, J&J’s first Mental Health Ambassador – has recruited over 1,000 employees in 32 countries, and trained more than 350 employees in Mental Health First Aid. The company extends mental health services to employees’ family members, too, ensuring positive well-being beyond the workplace.

Lendlease conducted a global health assessment of its employees in 2013 and found that 16% were at high risk of developing depression. In response, Lendlease introduced Well-Being Leave, an initiative that allowed employees to take one day off every quarter to attend to their health and well-being needs. In its global headquarters, the company also established The Wellness Hub, a place for preventative care, resources and activities focused on employee well-being.

Is It Enough?

Despite these notable examples, there is still work to be done. Just over half of employees surveyed in one recent study stated they either had no mental health programs offered through the workplace or didn’t know if any such programs were offered.

Furthermore, to be effective in maintaining employee mental health, businesses need to train managers to recognize the symptoms and warning signs of mental health conditions. By at least one measurement, employers are falling short in this regard. According to findings released in May 2019, only 25% of managers in the US have been trained in referring employees to mental health resources.

What Should Businesses Be Doing?

Most mental health experts will agree that there are three primary areas where employers should focus their mental health actions:

• Raising overall awareness of the importance of mental health and ending the attached stigma
• Changing the culture
• Improving access to mental health care

In an earlier Espyr blog (Removing the Stigma of Mental Health), we described a number of steps businesses should be taking to increase awareness, remove mental health stigma and increase access to care.

1. Your EAP is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal to combat mental health stigma and increase employee access to help. While this is certainly the case if you have a comprehensive EAP, it may not be true with a “free” or low-cost EAP that came bundled or embedded in a disability insurance product. These “EAP with purchase” products generally provide an EAP in name only; their business model only works if employee engagement is minimized, so they will be unlikely to serve any meaningful role in creating employee engagement.

2. Education and visibility are critically important. Your EAP should be very willing and adept in helping to build awareness and educate your employees. Initiatives we’ve seen work include:

• Hosting lunch-and-learns and guest speakers on behavioral health topics in the workplace
• Offering a monthly topical webinar to educate employees and normalize behavioral health issues
• Providing educational newsletters
• Providing special presentations to educate managers and supervisors about key mental health issues: mental health first aid, suicide prevention, PTSD awareness and substance abuse (including the opioid epidemic)

3. Promote awareness of the EAP and easy access to behavioral health treatment services at company benefit fairs.

4. Create a culture of acceptance, and make sure that it starts at the top. “Having full C-suite level support is important because you need to create a culture of safety,” says Don Mordecai, national leader for mental health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente. “Just going up to people saying, ‘This is okay’ is not going to make them feel safe in our stigmatized society. Workplace culture needs to be open to talking about mental health.” For example, when speaking to employees about medical benefits, include behavioral benefits and issues in the conversation, thereby normalizing behavioral health. Also, incorporate language in company policies to prevent stereotyping and eliminate improper labeling or bullying of employees with behavioral health challenges.

5. Develop a peer support program to train employees to assist distressed co-workers and encourage them to access provided professional behavioral health services.

Helping employees feel comfortable talking about mental health and developing a culture of support is a good start. But these steps are only worthwhile if employees have adequate access to care. Some suggestions we provided in our blog, Removing the Stigma of Mental Health, included:

1. Provide access to an interactive screening program, allowing employees to anonymously take a screening test for stress, depression and anxiety. Then, if they wish, enable them to speak with a behavioral health professional to understand their screening results and, if needed, connect them to the appropriate form of assistance – a therapist, psychiatrist, treatment program or self-help or support group. Espyr offers just such a behavioral health solution, called REALYZE™. REALYZE includes a screening program, as well as a review of the results with a professional, licensed mental health coach. Employees are then connected with the appropriate intervention resources, which could be the employer’s existing health plan. Espyr’s mental health coaches oversee the entire process to ensure more positive outcomes.

2. Larger companies should consider placing behavioral health clinicians on-site at workplaces to assess, refer and provide short-term counseling. A 2015 survey by the The National Association of Worksite Health Centers claims that 45% of all employers offer some sort of on-site health clinic. Adding a behavioral health clinician to these clinics is a natural wellness extension and further helps normalize the concept of mental health.

3. As behavioral health professionals, let your EAP partner help you draft policies that permit employees to leave work to keep behavioral health or EAP appointments. Structure benefits and policies knowing that many areas are underserved in terms of psychiatrists, so alternatives to psychiatry may be needed.

Espyr is Leading the Way

At Espyr, we’ve recognized the changes in mental health awareness, attitudes and our client’s needs over the past 30 years. In addition to providing one of the most comprehensive EAPs that employers can find anywhere, we’ve enhanced our product portfolio with new groundbreaking behavioral health solutions to help employers address the well-being needs of their employees.

• Products like Spotlight and REALYZE work to proactively target at-risk employees and deliver greater engagement, productivity and retention, while reducing healthcare expense.

• Our newest offering, Fit To Pass, provides coaching support and a customized plan to help professional drivers overcome barriers and challenges to achieving better health, especially when it comes to passing their DOT re-certification exams. This program is just as effective for law enforcement or any other occupations that require physical exams as a condition of employment.

To learn more about how Espyr can help your employees and your organization achieve their full potential, please call us at 888-570-3479.

 

Bibliography

1. (Pescosolido et al., 2010)
2. (Kobau, DiIorio, Chapman, & Delvecchio, 2010).
3. (Kessler, Chiu, Demler, & Walters, 2005)
4. (Wang et al., 2005)
5. (Hennessy et al., 2012)
6. Lerner D, Henke RM. What does research tell us about depression, job performance, and work productivity? J Occup Environ Med. 2008;50(4):401–410.
7. Dewa CS, Thompson AH, Jacobs P. The association of treatment of depressive episodes and work productivity. Can J Psychiatry. 2011; 56(12):743–750.
8. Melek SP, Norris DT, Paulus J, Matthews K, Weaver A, Davenport S. Potential Economic Impact of Integrated Medical-Behavioral Healthcare: Updated Projections for 2017. Milliman Research Report. Seattle, WA: Milliman, Inc.; 2018.