In a recent National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) article, national director of strategic partnerships Katrina Gay told of her difficulties finding a celebrity to speak at a 2006 press event. She went through many weeks of attempts and rejection, finally securing Oscar and Emmy-winning actress Patty Duke. “Why are so many celebrities refusing to step forward,” Ms. Gay asked. “Because celebrities face the same stigma of mental health and discrimination anybody does,” answered Ms. Duke. “But I’ve been the president of the Screen Actors Guild and had a successful career,” she continued. “I can afford to take these risks.”
Fortunately, more celebrities are seeing the value in stepping forward and discussing their mental health issues. Not only are they not suffering the consequences their peers did years ago, they’re helping reduce the stigma of mental health for everyone.
These Athletes are Winners
As they are role models for so many young people, athletes are especially influential celebrities. And their teams are not just accepting mental health as an all-too-common illness, they are building treatment into everyday training and treatment regimens.
In the WNBA, for example, Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces wrote an honest, detailed story for The Player’s Tribune outlining her struggles with anxiety and depression. In an age when social media commentary can be particularly cruel, most of the feedback on her story was supportive and full of praise.
An opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle outlined other athletes who have spoken honestly about their mental health struggles, including Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Michael Phelps, Oscar De La Hoya and Terry Bradshaw. When these celebrities open up, it often turns into conversations that are mutually beneficial to players, coaches, management and fans, slowly tearing away the negative stigma often associated with mental health disorders.
Along with this shift in public opinion comes more treatment options. According to a report by Sam Amick of The Athletic, the NBA is amping up its mental health guidelines, providing players more access to mental health professionals, an action plan for mental health emergencies and ongoing discussions on how to handle these issues. The NFL just initiated their own mental health plan for the 2019-2020 season. MLB and MLS each have new mental health policies in place. And several WNBA teams provide access to mental health professionals.
Entertainers are Making a Difference, Too
Although actors, singers and musicians don’t have the support of a league, many entertainers have also come forward about their mental health struggles.
Kristen Bell, one of the stars of the series The Good Place, wrote an essay for Time’s Motto about the importance of being candid about her depression. “People in a similar situation need to realize they are not worthless,” Ms. Bell says, “and that they have something to offer.”
Pop sensation Miley Cyrus shared her story with ELLE. “I went through a time where I was really depressed,” she said. “Like, I locked myself in my room and my dad had to break my door down.” She has learned that every person can benefit from talking to somebody.
When Rolling Stone did a story on Bruce Springsteen, he shared that he was in treatment for many years from depression and thoughts of suicide. “After that article,” psychologist and author Deborah Serani recently told Forbes, “I had an influx of young men calling for psychotherapy. His disclosure helped. They thought, ‘if Springsteen was depressed and reached out for treatment, I can too.’”
Employers Can Also Be Mental Health Stars
For employers, mental health issues lead to reduced productivity and higher healthcare costs. So helping employees deal with their mental health issues is always a priority. Now, with celebrities breaking down the stigma of mental health, getting employees to step forward and seek help is getting a bit easier.
In an Espyr® article from last year, Removing the Stigma of Mental Health, we described some of the steps we’ve seen employers are taking that are further breaking down the stigma of mental health, as well as making it easier for employees to get treatment. Here are some highlights:
- Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). 97% of large companies (over 5,000 employees), as well as an estimated 75-80% of mid sized and smaller companies have an EAP. It’s the most powerful weapon in your arsenal to combat mental health stigma and increase employee access to help. (Of course, not all EAPs are created equal. So-called “free” EAPs – those that come embedded in disability insurance products – are based on a model that only works if employee engagement is minimized, so they will be unlikely or unwilling to serve any meaningful role in generating employee engagement.)
- Create awareness and education programs. Critically important to the success of any program, your EAP should be very willing to help you build awareness and educate your employees, including:
- Hosting lunch and learns in the workplace on behavioral health topics
- Offering a monthly topical webinar for employers to use to educate their employees and normalize mental health issues
- Providing educational newsletters
- Provide easy access to mental health services. Reduce as many barriers to treatment as possible. This could mean adding smartphone features, creating an easy-to-remember phone number or regularly reminding employees about available services.
- Create a culture of acceptance. For example, when speaking to employees about medical benefits, include mental health benefits and issues in the conversation, thereby normalizing mental health.
- Provide access to an interactive screening program. Allow employees to anonymously check for stress, depression and anxiety. Then, if they wish, they can dialogue with a behavioral health professional to understand their screening results.
- Develop a peer support program. Train employees to assist distressed employees and encourage them to access professional behavioral health services.
- Prioritize mental health treatment. Draft policies that permit employees to leave work to go to mental health or EAP appointments.
Espyr is a leader in mental 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.