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Workplace mental health issues

Celebrities Step Up To End The Stigma of Mental Health

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.

Workplace mental health issues

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:

  1. 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.)
  1. 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
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. Develop a peer support program. Train employees to assist distressed employees and encourage them to access professional behavioral health services.
  3. Prioritize mental health treatment. Draft policies that permit employees to leave work to go to mental health or EAP appointments.

About Espyr

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.

 

The Surging Suicide Rate; What Should Employers Do?

Today’s news headlines that life expectancy for Americans fell for the second time in the past 3 years painted a disturbing picture of life in America.   The primary reasons for the decline? Increasing deaths from opioid abuse and suicide.

The suicide rate in America is up 33% in less than 20 years. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among those aged 10-34 and fourth leading cause of death among 35-54 year olds.

The suicide rate is up 33% in less than 20 years

Why the suicide rate has increased so rapidly is open to debate. Alcohol and substance abuse, increasing rates of depression, the declines in the family structure as well as sense of community, economic woes, even smartphone usage have all been associated with suicide in one way or another.

Mental health and suicide

The reasons for the increase in the suicide rate may be complicated, but what is clear is that suicide is preventable. In 2016, 45,000 people died by suicide in the US. The number of people who attempted suicide was nearly 29 times higher than that. That’s over 1.25 million people who attempted suicide but survived.

Survivors often describe that it wasn’t the desire to die that drove their suicide attempt, but a desire to escape pain. That pain can be physical, but is often mental pain. Mental pain can be difficult to acknowledge because of the stigma that exists around mental health issues.

The role of employers

One in five Americans will suffer a mental health issue in a given year

Employers have a vested interest in recognizing the importance of mental health.  Employees suffering from mental health issues such as depression will miss approximately five workdays and experience 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months. This isn’t an isolated issue either. One in five American adults will suffer from some type of mental health issue in a given year.

How can employers help? First, companies need to eliminate the stigma of mental health. Studies have shown that more accepting workplaces have happier employees with better productivity. Awareness and education through frank and open discussions and training is critical in removing mental health stigma.

Second, employers need to learn to recognize the signs of depression. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways: physically, behaviorally and emotionally. Physically, changes in appetite, aches and pains, changes in sleep habits and feeling extremely tired can all occur. Behaviorally, those with depression may exhibit irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating or difficulty completing daily routines. Increased alcohol consumption or reckless behavior can occur. Emotionally, a strong and consistent feeling of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness may be noticed.

Many companies offer exercise programs or wellness classes such as yoga or meditation. Unilever, one of many companies that have established comprehensive programs designed specifically to support employee mental health, provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways to support employees with mental health conditions is taking advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Comprehensive EAP programs offer information workshops and training for employees and supervisors on mental health. This training helps employees recognize the symptoms of depression and prepares workers and supervisors for actions that need to be taken when suicide prevention measures are called for. Employees have access to counselors through the EAP who are trained and certified to handle mental health issues such as depression.

Of course, many people in need don’t seek help. They’re afraid to come forward because of the stigma of mental health. They’re worried about confidentiality or they fear their mental health conditions may jeopardize their employment.

At Espyr®, we offer an industry-first Interactive Screening Program (ISP) that provides employees with a convenient, anonymous way to connect with a qualified counselor about available service options through their EAP – and address their concerns before they escalate.

Offered in association with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the program has been especially effective. As one participant put it, “I was finally able to let someone know how badly I was feeling without any judgment.”

Learn more

As a leading behavioral health provider, Espyr has extensive experience working with employers to recognize and deal with employee mental health issues such as depression or feelings of suicide. To learn more how Espyr can help your organization call us at 888-570-3479 or click here.

 

 

Can Limiting Social Media To 10 Minutes Per Day Improve Your Mental Health?

Social media. Is it bad for you or good for you? That is a question actively debated by psychologists, mental health advocates, parents, teachers, and even those in Silicon Valley.

Certainly social media has profoundly changed the way people communicate and how they interact with others. Numerous studies have reported that those heavily engaged in social networking were more likely to feel depressed and lonely.   Some social networking engagement has been associated with feelings of low self-esteem, especially in teenagers.

The UK publication, The Week reported on a number of studies that have found an association between social media use and depression, anxietysleep problemseating issues, and increased suicide risk according to researchers from the University of Melbourne’s National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health.

The CDC recently revealed the suicide rate in the US has grown nearly 25% since 1999, with a story in CNN reporting part of the blame lies with the rise of social media.

A 2015 study by the University of Missouri found that regularly using Facebook could lead to symptoms of depression if the site triggered feelings of envy in the user.

However, that same study also found that people who use the platform primarily to connect with others do not experience negative effects. “In fact, when not triggering feelings of envy, the study shows, Facebook could have positive effects on well-being,” Psychology Today reports.

The story in The Week went on to report that there is also compelling evidence that social media can benefit people already dealing with mental health issues by helping them build online communities that provide a source of emotional support. The UK Mental Health Foundation says it is “undeniable” that online technologies can be used to reach the most vulnerable in society, as well as helping to reduce the stigma attached to seeking treatment.

Social media is “invaluable for people with health conditions to know that they are not alone, that there are other people who have gone through this and got better”, says Professor John Powell, a public health researcher at Oxford University, who has researched how social media can be used to support people with chronic illnesses.

These positive findings correspond to those reported by Facebook itself, although Facebook certainly has some self-interest to such positive findings.

Facebook found that in general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward. In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook. A study from UC San Diego and Yale found that people who heavily engaged in social media – clicking on about four times as many links as the average person or who liked twice as many posts – reported worse mental health than average.

On the other hand, actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well being.

Recently, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted the first causal study on social media to address the theory that social media usage increases depression and anxiety. Their findings, as reported in No More FOMO; Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, showed limiting social media usage to 10 minutes per day brought significant reductions in loneliness and depression. Interestingly, both their test and control groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out, suggesting a benefit simply from increased self-monitoring.

The old saying, “everything in moderation” reportedly dates back to the Greek poet Hesiod around the year 700, but it seems to be as relevant today in regard to social media as it ever was in the past. Furthermore, how social media is being used – whether it’s to interact with friends and family or for other purposes – will impact whether engagement in social media is ultimately bad for you or not.

At Espyr we help people and organizations address and overcome behavioral health issues, enabling them to achieve their full potential. To learn more about how we can help your organization, call us at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dying For Help: Addressing Mental Health Stigma In The Workplace

Polished.  Buttoned up.  Accomplished.  Funny.   This was how Sally Saba, MD was described.

And on March 5, 2017 she attempted to take her own life.

So it was only natural that the filled auditorium was hushed when Dr. Saba, Vice President of Operations, Performance and Compliance in Diversity and Inclusion at Kaiser Permanente Health Plan in California described her battle with depression and attempted suicide. Dr. Saba was speaking at the #Findyourwords Forum on Mental Health Stigma sponsored by Kaiser Permanente in Atlanta October 15.

Along with Dr. Saba, the Forum featured a panel of distinguished mental health experts, one of which was Norman Winegar, Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr.  I interviewed Mr. Winegar who shared his valuable commentary on mental health stigma, depression and suicide prevention for this article.

Golden: Mr. Winegar, why are people who suffer from depression and other mental health conditions reluctant to get help?

Winegar: There is a pervasive social stigma associated with seeking help for behavioral health conditions. People fear negative repercussions, both professionally and personally.  They’re concerned about a potential lack of promotions at work or alienation from friends and family.

Golden: Why should employers be concerned about mental health stigma?

Winegar: There are many reasons. Undocumented and untreated behavioral health conditions can have serious outcomes. Mood disorders are the leading cause of lost workdays in the world according to the World Health Organization.

Left untreated, behavioral health conditions can increase the cost of medical care. Compliance with treatment plans can be negatively impacted.   There is a high co-occurrence of mental health and physical health conditions, which can complicate and undermine medical care. Furthermore, people with undiagnosed mental health conditions use non-psychiatric healthcare services (including costly Emergency Department visits) 3 times more than those who do get treatment.

Employee performance is affected via absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover, decreased safety and increased risk. All these issues can and will affect team cohesion, customer service and can create disciplinary issues. Depressed employees for example are 20-30% more likely to become unemployed.

Overall, the cost of behavioral health conditions to US employers is estimated at $80-100 Billion annually (NIMH), so employers have a strong economic incentive to be concerned about mental health stigma.

Golden: What can employers do to reduce stigma and encourage employees to get assistance?

Winegar: Generally speaking it’s a combination of education and policy change.

  1. Use respectful language. Avoid terms like “crazy” or “he/ she is bipolar”
  2. Provide professional development opportunities for your employees (especially supervisors and managers) around diversity and mental health awareness
  3. Foster an inclusive workplace culture
  4. Create and communicate polices that make it safe for people in distress to come forward and access treatment. For instance, Kaiser Permanente has developed a Mental Health, Wellness and Resiliency Strategy to support the company-wide awareness of Mental Health issues and to create a stigma-free environment.
  5. Support educational programs in the workplace to educate about mental health issues and to encourage peer support
  6. Implement a suicide awareness and prevention program

Golden: Do suicide prevention programs work?

Winegar: Absolutely! Let me give you a few examples.

  • The US Air Force implemented a suicide prevention program and saw a 33% reduction in suicides over 6 years
  • The University of California, San Diego School of Medicine implemented in 2009 an online anonymous Interactive Screening Program after 10 physicians and medical students committed suicide over a period of 15 years. Since 2009, 300 physicians and trainees have accepted referrals to treatment via this anonymous, confidential program.
  • A large Federal customer of Espyr’s has since 2016 offered a similar Interactive Screening Program that has referred over 120 people to treatment in 2 years.

Golden: Is there a correlation between type of occupation and the severity of stigma around mental illness?

Winegar: Yes.

Healthcare professionals experience stigma as it relates to policies that may cause them fear of losing their professional license.

Government employees experience stigma as it relates to policies that cause them fear that if they seek treatment they may lose their security clearance, and hence their job.

Attorneys (and law students) experience stigma as it relates to policies that may cause them fear of losing their bar status or not being able to take the bar exam.

Law Enforcement and First Responders experience stigma as it relates to Fitness for Duty policies that cause them fear that disclosing a behavioral health condition may cause a temporary or permanent removal of their badge or weapon.

Golden: How can employers measure the mental health of employees?

Winegar: Employers have several tools at their disposal.

  • Holistic analytics can provide insight into the health of the workforce, beyond just claims analysis.
  • Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) should include not only questions about emotional wellbeing but also about employee awareness of employer-sponsored resources and whether managers are supportive of team members’ mental and emotional wellbeing.
  • Utilization of their EAP. For instance “free EAPs” usually have 1-2% usage, but employers know that 20+% of employees are having some type of mental health issue each year that can affect their work and therefore their employer’s profitability. So going cheap in this important area is unwise and poor business sense. Many factors can influence use of an EAP, but generally look for case utilization in the 8-12% range; look for your EAP to reach and impact 20-30% of your workforce through some form of activity.

Golden: What should I say to someone who is reluctant to get help?

Winegar: Have what I call a caring conversation. Ask if they are Ok. Note the behavioral changes you’ve seen. And it’s okay to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide or self-harm. This caring question will not “put the idea in their mind”.  Listen and be non-judgmental. Provide support and encouragement. Point out resources like a Primary Care Physician or the EAP. Keep faith-based resources in mind for some people. Follow-up and check in with the person.

If you think the person is in imminent danger to themselves or others, call 911 or if you are at work, speak with a manager or call security.

Golden: What was it that you wanted people to walk away with from your comments at the #Findyourwords event?

Winegar: Stigma drives silence and silence prevents those in need from getting help. This can have disastrous personal and business consequences. Breaking this silence encourages people to get help. This starts with each one of us.

When people feel safe, they are more likely to access sources of assistance and treatment.

Businesses need to act in responsible ways when it comes to their most valuable asset, their employees. Employers need to pair robust healthcare services with proactive programs like comprehensive EAP services and other specialized programs to reduce social barriers to seeking help (such as Interactive Screening Programs; Peer Support programs, Mental Health Awareness education, etc.). This makes good business and people sense.

 

To read more about addressing mental health stigma go to this prior Espyr post  See this post to read more about how employers can address the rise in suicides.

As a leader in behavioral health, Espyr is frequently called upon to help our clients and their employees deal with depression and suicide prevention. For more information on how Espyr can help your company deal with these issues, or any other behavior health issue, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

The importance of mental health in the workplace

A few months ago, Patti Murin, the actress playing Anna in the Broadway show, Frozen, tweeted that she needed to take some time off for mental health reasons.

In her tweet, Murin stated, “I’ve learned that these situations aren’t something to deal with or push through. Anxiety and depression are real diseases that affect many of us. It requires rest and self care to handle every time it becomes more than I can handle in my daily life.”

Mental health conditions are more prevalent than you’d think

Murin was right when she said that mental health issues affect many of us. The fact is that mental health issues are far more common than most people realize. One in five adult Americans – 41 million people – will experience mental health issues in any given year. Someone suffering from depression will miss approximately five missed work days and 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months. The cost to the US economy is a staggering $51 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity and an additional $26 billion in direct costs of treatment.

Millennials, the largest segment of today’s workforce, report higher rates of depression than any other generation, and research indicates that depression is becoming more prevalent among younger women. Women, in fact, are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression.

 

“If you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees.”

Tim Munden, Unilever

Unfortunately, many of those suffering from depression or other mental health issues don’t seek help. Employees often stay quiet due to the stigma of mental illness and concern that co-workers or supervisors will think poorly of them. There is still a perception by many that it’s acceptable and even encouraged to stay home from work if you’re physically ill, but not okay for mental illness. Concerns that having a mental health issue can affect career advancement can, or at least appear to those affected, be very real in some companies. Many with depression think they can just “power through it” and pull themselves together.

 

How employers can help

Employers have a vested interest in recognizing the importance of employee mental health and many are stepping up to act, as noted by Kari Paul in Workplaces are finally treating mental health as sick days, even on Broadway. “If you want a high-performing company, you need resilient, healthy employees, said Unilever’s chief learning officer, Tim Munden. Unilever is one of many companies like American Express and Prudential who have established comprehensive programs specifically designed to support employee mental health.

What should an employer do? First and foremost, companies need to remove the stigma of mental health. “Studies have shown that [more accepting] workplaces have happier employees with better productivity,” said Michelle Riba, a professor of psychiatry and the associate director of the University of Michigan Depression Center in an interview with Huffington Post.   Awareness and education through frank and open discussions and training is critical in removing mental health stigma, as we’ve reported previously in our blog on Removing the Stigma of Mental Health.

Second, employers need to learn to recognize the signs of depression. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways physically, behaviorally and emotionally. Physically, changes in appetite, aches and pains, changes in sleep habits and feeling extremely tired can all occur. Behaviorally, those with depression may exhibit irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating or difficulty completing daily routines. Increased alcoholic consumption or reckless behavior can occur. Emotionally, a strong and consistent feeling of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness may be noticed.

Some companies offer wellness classes such as yoga or meditation. Exercise can help by raising endorphin levels. Unilever’s mental health program referenced earlier provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways to support employees with mental health conditions is taking advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Comprehensive EAP programs, such as those offered by Espyr, include information workshops and training for employees and supervisors on mental health. Besides helping employees recognize the symptoms of depression, this training prepares workers and supervisors for when and what actions need to be taken when suicide prevention measures are called for. Furthermore, employees have access to counselors through your EAP who are trained and certified to handle mental health issues such as depression.

If you’d like to know more about mental health programs for your company, call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.