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Practice Good Self-Care: Take a Mental Health Day

As the global pandemic has shifted our lives into a new “normal,” many Americans have been faced with major transitions in their work, social, and personal lives.  These changes are taking a toll. Over 60% of employees say they are experiencing more stress than before the pandemic started.

A major change we have seen over the past few months is the mass transition to working from home. This sudden break of routine and lack of social interaction has played a major role in how many people have been affected by the change of work environment. Since the onset of the pandemic, over 40% of employees are currently working from home.  On average, these working from home employees are working two more hours per day.

During the start of the pandemic, employees that worked from home saw an initial burst in productivity, but over time, many found it more difficult to stay productive and maintain satisfaction. This was due to various causes including everyday monotony or having to work remotely without the proper resources in place to support their work. Many parents have been forced to juggle multiple roles as employee and teacher while trying to work with family members in the same location.  Lack of social connections with fellow employees led to further difficulty, as did technology challenges and a new version of teamwork in a virtual work world.

This challenging milieu has been amplified by the additional health concerns for working parents about return-to-school plans this fall. Changes to our social circumstances, as well as major economic challenges including furloughs and pay cuts have been added strains to an already stressful period for many. As these changes continue to evolve over the course of the pandemic, feelings of uncertainty over when our lives will return to normality loom over us all.

Although everyone deals with varying levels of personal stress, the effects of stress can be especially difficult to manage if one has symptoms of a clinical mental health condition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety and depressive disorders are the cause of the loss of over a trillion dollars globally every year.

One resource to help employees is a mental health day. Mental health days are designated days that are designed towards stress relief and burnout prevention. Although taking one day off is likely not going to solve significant underlying mental health issues, mental health days can aid in bringing back higher levels of energy and a fresh perspective by providing a temporary pause to the constant stress of balancing work and family life in a pandemic.

How Can a Mental Health Day Help?

Scheduling a day off ahead of time can help in relieving the stress of taking a day off by ensuring enough time to find replacements or rearranging your workload. Upon taking a mental health day to focus on relieving stress, one can expect to de-stress, organize their emotions, relax, reset their perspective, physically and mentally rest, and/or take a step back to evaluate their current situation.

Make the Most of Your Mental Health Day Off

When taking a mental health day, it is important that one prioritizes their needs based on their current mental and physical condition. It is also necessary to take into consideration what forms of self-care and stress coping mechanisms work best for them. For some individuals this could look like resting in their pajamas and watching mindless TV for hours while for others, it could look like partaking in physical activities such as attending a yoga class, getting a massage, taking a walk, or swimming. Utilizing the tools needed to effectively make successful use of a mental health day is the main goal of taking a break to clear your mind and take time on self-care.

Personal mental health care should be considered a daily priority. Just like our physical health. It is important that we are cognizant of our stress levels or changes to our behavior that might be warning signs for further attention. Mental health days can be useful in giving employees a day off to take a breath – a much-needed break from our everyday stressors. It may also help them evaluate if there are healthy changes that they need to make in their thinking, attitudes, perspectives, and self-care activities to increase both their work performance and personal well-being.

About the Authors

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.

Yeji Jang, MSW Intern, is a graduate intern at Espyr, working in the Network and Provider Relations Department and with Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer.  A graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, and having worked with immigrant populations, she is currently finishing her last semester at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work. After graduation, Yeji will pursue the goal of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and then wants to practice clinical social work in a behavioral health setting.

Sources

Verywell Mind, When You Should Take a Mental Health Day

https://www.verywellmind.com/when-and-how-to-take-a-mental-health-day-3144754

Employee Benefit News, Many employees are tired of working from home. Here’s what to do about it.

https://www.benefitnews.com/news/many-employees-are-tired-of-working-from-home-heres-what-to-do-about-it?position=editorial_1&campaignname=EBN_Daily_FirstLook_-08132020&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBN_Daily_FirstLook_%2B%27-%27%2B08132020&bt_ee=z04sU0lh6R54Be3tRAGCMSCocVIt35TsgTIilq82Kdk%3D&bt_ts=1597312244717

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 counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

What People With Mental Illness Want You to Know

Mental Illness Awareness Week is October 4 – 10. This week was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress to draw attention to the work of a variety of private and public organizations who educate people and create awareness of mental illness. This year’s theme is “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” I’d like to piggyback on that theme to tell you what I as a mental health professional want you to know.

We Should Talk About Mental Health

First, I want you to know this is a topic that we need to normalize by talking about it. By talking about it as many different conditions – not one singular illness. By recognizing that some illnesses are biologically based. By understanding that in various ways they can affect our thinking, feelings, mood, and behavior. In general, talking about it much as we do in discussing physical health conditions. By doing, do we help confront the social stigma and stereotypes? Stigma and stereotyping delay those with illness and their families from seeking help.

Mental Health Disorders Are Not Uncommon

Second, I want you to know how prevalent mental health disorders are in the U.S., even before the coronavirus pandemic with its enormous emotional toll. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report confirmed the growing evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession are having an unprecedented negative impact on Americans’ mental health, with unpredictable consequences. The KFF tracking poll found that 53% of adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health status had worsened due to worry and stress associated with the ongoing pandemic and economic damage. For many years prior to 2020, studies have shown that about one in five Americans experiences a mental health condition of some type, and one in 25 U.S. adults experience a serious mental illness each year. Many more family members are affected as well.

You may have heard these facts, but you might not be aware that mental illness is an issue for children and young people. One in six children aged 17 and under experience a mental health disorder each year. Fully 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14. Yet many school systems are poorly resourced and equipped to provide early screening and referral for children and teens.

Causes of Mental Illnesses

Third, I also want you to know this about the causes of mental illnesses. Just like physical illnesses, there are multiple causes of mental disorders and they affect all classes, all groups, all zip codes, all red states, and all blue states. A person’s genetics, their early living environment, family circumstances, their social conditions like poverty or discrimination, and many other factors play a role in development of a mental illness. A stressful job, or an unloving family life may also create risk. Experiencing traumatic events like child abuse or neglect, intimate partner abuse, trauma in war, daily microaggressions related to gender, race or ethnicity, or brain injuries also put people at risk. But in short, no one, no family, no society is immune.

Treatment for Behavioral Health Disorders

Finally, I’d like you to know some uplifting news. Treatment for behavioral health disorders has never been more effective than it is today. New pharmaceuticals and evidence-based talk therapies are making their impact. Social stigma around the issue is diminishing, especially among younger people. Access channels like Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are common and Student Assistance Programs (SAP) are gaining traction. Both are prevention, education and early case finding and advocacy resources. Speaking of EAPs and SAPs, October is a good time to visit with your programs. Understand what they are doing to provide an easily accessible channel to help those in need to get started on a path to treatment. And while you are at it, ask about what they can do to help you educate and build resiliency in the other 80% who will not experience a mental health condition this year, but who are experiencing all the unusual stressors that have come with 2020.

One last thought. A great way for you personally or for your work organization to get involved in advocacy for people with mental illness and their families is to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org.

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

National Alliance for Mental Illness
www.nami.org

The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Kaiser Family Foundation
Nirmita Panchal, et al

https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

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

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 counseling, coaching  and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Talking To A Friend About Mental Health

Would you know what to do if a friend approached you to tell you that they were having mental health issues?   Society has come a long way when it comes to understanding and talking about mental health.  Nonetheless, there is still a stigma about mental health.  It took great courage for your friend to approach you. How should you respond?  What should you do with the information that’s been shared with you?

How to talk to a friend who is struggling with their mental health was the subject of a recent article in Lifehacker and originated in a story by Anne Thériault in Flare.com.  Thériault has had first hand experience on the subject of mental health having been admitted to a psychiatric ward for suicidal ideation.  She relates what it was like to tell friends and family of her condition.  While she’s learned to talk about her mental health, she’s found other people often don’t know how to respond.

At Espyr, we’ve had years of experience working with people and employers on the subject of mental health. We believe that talking about mental health is important so we want to share Thériault’s story along with our perspectives where we differ from her suggestions.

Mostly just listen

Thériault begins with what’s most important – be a good listener.  “It’s hard to hear that someone you care about is suffering. The impulse is to rush in and try and “fix” everything. But your friend is talking to you because they need to talk. Unless they’re directly asking for help, they probably only want you to listen and commiserate.” Thériault says that unsolicited advice is one of the worst responses you can have:  “Don’t ask them if they’ve seen a doctor. Don’t tell them to try therapy. Don’t suggest medication or yoga or long baths. I guarantee you that your friend has already considered many of these things; you’re certainly not the first person to ask if they’ve tried pot to help their anxiety.“

“When in doubt, nod and listen some more.”

We agree with Thériault on the importance of being a good listener.  That doesn’t mean that you’re expected to have all the answers. It is okay to say, “I don’t know what to say, but I care about you.”   Don’t feel the need to play the role of therapist.

However, after working with thousands of people with mental health conditions, we’ve found that when people are in a crisis or struggling with intense mental health issues, they can be overwhelmed and not know what to do.  You may be the first person they have told and they need help knowing where to turn.

We’ve found it can be very helpful to encourage your friend in a compassionate way to talk to a counselor with questions such as “Are you talking to a professional about this?”  If they answer affirmatively you can encourage them by saying, “I am so glad you are doing something to take care of yourself.”

We also suggest using reflective listening skills.  Reflective listening is a special type of listening that involves paying respectful attention to the content and feeling expressed in another persons’ communication.  Katz and McNulty describe it like this

  1. Hearing and understanding what the other person is communicating through words and “body language” to the best of your ability.
  2. Responding to the other person by reflecting the thoughts and feelings you heard in his or her words, tone of voice, body posture, and gestures.

Take your tone from them

Thériault goes on to say, “Humor is often used as a defense mechanism, and sometimes someone might want to joke about their depression; if they’re not joking, however, you shouldn’t be either. How someone introduces the topic will tell you a lot about how they want you to discuss it with them. Having been depressed myself, I do sometimes joke about it, but if someone tried to make a joke at my expense in a dark moment, it wouldn’t have gone over well.”

Offer specific help

Thériault suggests that this comes up a lot in relation to grief, illness, or other extreme circumstances that might leave someone incapacitated—do not say “let me know if you need anything.”

“What if I ask for too much, or something they’re not willing to give? Or, sometimes, if I’m really overwhelmed, I know that I need something but I can’t find the words to say what that is. 

Thériault goes on to say, “Offering specific suggestions like going out for coffee or ordering someone food allows them to simply say yes or no; depression and anxiety makes it hard to think clearly and identify your needs. Someone stepping up with simple ideas helps a lot with decision-making.”

We’d take Thériault’s suggestion one step further.   Since your friend may not be thinking clearly, being able to suggest a next step can often be very helpful.  A next step could be seeing their Primary Care doctor, contacting their employer’s EAP or college’s SAP if it’s a college student, or contacting the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

What about concern for suicide?

It’s okay to ask someone in the course of a supportive conversation, “Are you thinking about harming yourself or killing yourself?”  Evidence is that this question doesn’t put the idea of suicide in one’s mind.  Most likely they will say no, but if they say yes, you can get emergency services (911) and help them.

For more on the difficulty in talking about a mental health condition including what to do if the discussion involves thoughts of suicide, please read our blog post, Dying For Help: Addressing Mental Health Stigma In The Workplace.

 

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health.  We provide a continuum of care ranging from integrated medical/behavioral health solutions, coaching and leadership development to comprehensive EAP, all designed to help employees and organizations reach their full potential. To learn more about Espyr can help your organization, call us at 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

 

 

The Surprising Link Between Mind, Body and Healthcare Costs

Although usually treated separately, mental health and physical health can influence each other in many important, surprising ways. Ignoring one or the other in your benefits offering can significantly impact your employees’ quality of life, your business and, more specifically, your healthcare costs.

This is the first of several articles we’ll publish this year describing how behavioral and physical health conditions co-occur, how that impacts employer healthcare costs and the growing recognition of the importance of integrated medical and behavioral healthcare.

How Mental Health Affects the Body

Mental health affects more people than you think. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness tells us almost one in five U.S. adults – 43.8 million people – experience some form of mental illness in a given year. Whether depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction or any one of a wide range of problems, poor mental health can affect your ability to make healthy decisions and affect your body’s ability to fight off chronic conditions.

In a BlueCross BlueShield article, psychiatrist and BCBS medical director Dr. Ann Marie Oberheu says neglecting your mental health can lead to more serious health complications, including:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Obesity
  • And premature death

“Depression alone causes the abnormal function of neurotransmitters in the brain,” says Dr. Oberheu. “This can lead to chronic fatigue, insomnia and increased sensitivity to aches and pains.”

How Physical Health Affects the Mind

Since the mind and body are connected, the physical state also affects the mental. For many physical medical conditions, the effects go beyond the visual signs and symptoms; they can impact the patient’s psychological well-being, as well, affecting his or her quality of life.

In an article by the Mental Health Foundation, they explore the mental health ramifications of a seemingly benign physical illness – psoriasis. Apparently, the effects of this fairly common autoimmune disease (as many as 7.5 million sufferers in the U.S.) go much deeper than the red flaky sores on the surface of the skin. The dramatic emotional effects include:

  • About 1/3 experience anxiety and depression
  • 1 in 3 experience feelings of humiliation
  • 1 in 5 report being rejected and stigmatized
  • 1 in 10 admit to contemplating suicide

Even worse, emotional distress can trigger a psoriasis flare, which, of course, triggers further stress. This cycle can be very troublesome for both mind and body.

In an article posted by Everyday Health, this connection is further explained by Dr. Charles Goodstein, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City. He says the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind,” says Dr. Goodstein, “can influence the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which, in effect, control much of what goes on within the body.”

What Does It Mean For Employers?

When a mental disorder – for example depression, anxiety, substance abuse – co-occurs with another illness, it is often more difficult to treat the physical condition as well as the mental one, outcomes tend to be poorer and costs are higher.

There is growing awareness that mental and medical illnesses, particularly chronic conditions, frequently co-occur. Studies have shown that up to 40% of medical claims costs may be a direct result of behavioral health conditions.  We know that 25% of the total population suffers from multiple chronic conditions and that 29% of adults with a medical disorder also have at least one behavioral health disorder.

As businesses seek ways to control ever-increasing healthcare costs, there is growing recognition that mental health must become part of an employer’s overall healthcare plan. Traditional health & wellness as well as population health management programs do not address the impact of behavioral health conditions on physical well-being and the associated costs.

That’s why Espyr®has developed Spotlight®. Spotlight is a unique population health management program that addresses the large hidden costs of behavioral health when certain behavioral health conditions are co-morbid with chronic physical health conditions.  Spotlight uses proprietary data analytics modeling to identify those individuals who are at highest risk for future medical claims andare most likely to engage with a behavioral health coach.  This information is then used to create a plan for targeted and individualized behavioral health interventions.

For more information on Spotlightor how Espyr can help your company deal with today’s complicated health issues, call 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

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.

 

 

College Students In Crisis. What You Need To Know Now.

There’s a mental health crisis spreading across our colleges and universities. If you’re a parent of a college-aged child – or an aunt, uncle or grandparent – you should be very concerned.  If you’re a college administrator, college student mental health issues shouldn’t be coming as a surprise to you.

The Disturbing Facts

It’s time we think seriously about college student mental health and the emotional turmoil that is affecting so many of our college students.   You might be surprised, and probably shocked, at these statistics provided in an article recently by Gene Beresin, Harvard Medical School Professor of Psychiatry:

  • 73% of college students experience some sort of mental health crisis during college.
  • Almost 50% of college students have had a psychiatric disorder in the past year.
  • Almost 33% of college students report having felt so depressed, they had trouble functioning.
  • More than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they have to do.
  • 45% have felt that things were hopeless.
  • College directors of counseling services say demand for counseling services has grown at least five times faster than average student enrollment.
  • Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help.

These problems, of course, lead to other problems, starting with diminished school performance. In a University of Michigan study, depression was shown to be a significant predictor of not only GPA, but also the likelihood of dropping out. In addition, the co-occurrence of depression and anxiety is associated with a significant additional drop in GPA.

With all this going on, alcohol and drug abuse cannot be far behind. Even suicide comes into play. Yes, this mental health crisis is serious, and something must be done.

The Rest of the Story

Let’s start this section by being perfectly transparent: Espyr, offers a Student Assistance Program (SAP) providing colleges and universities with licensed behavioral health experts that support students with free and confidential professional assessment, counseling, referral services, coaching and other support services. Would we like every campus to offer a customized Espyr SAP? Yes. Would this completely solve the problem? No. But it is a big piece in solving the puzzle.

Unfortunately, for the typical college student in emotional trouble, there are too many factors getting in the way of finding any kind of help. According to the Huffington Post article quoted previously these include:

  • Age-Specific Vulnerabilities – About 50% of psychiatric disorders begin by age 14.
  • Immature Brains – The human brain does not fully mature until about age 26. Until we reach our mid-twenties, the brain is largely driven by emotion.
  • The Stigma of Mental Health Problems – This stigma exists for adults, as well as college-aged children. Students may worry about a “black mark” on their record or being judged and categorized by peers.
  • Limited On-Campus Services – Even in small schools, the ratio of certified counselors to students can be 1:2,000 – or worse.

Making Things Better

This situation cannot be fixed overnight. But we have to begin. Just looking at some of the issues and problems already mentioned, the action plan is fairly clear:

  • Increase Access to Qualified Help – For the suffering students who want to get help, they need to have places to go, people to call or websites to visit. Of course, an SAP from Espyr or elsewhere can help in this regard, and has proven repeatedly to be extremely valuable to thousands of students and their families.
  • Increase On-Campus Learning – Key to prevention is accessible education about mental health issues, as well as promoting all options for finding help.  SAPs like Espyr’s can help faculty and administrators with training, workshops, and access to educational resources.
  • Decrease the Stigma – Again, education is key. The more students realize they’re not alone in their suffering, the more they’ll be willing to seek help.
  • Promote Student Well-Being – Good mental health is promoted by good nutrition, exercise, good sleep habits, meditation, discussion groups and more. These activities should be part of every campus curriculum, whether official or not.

These suggestions are not exhaustive, by any means. But it’s a step in the right direction, a step towards saving our children from unnecessary suffering. Maybe, even, saving their lives.

For more information on how to develop a customized Student Assistance Program for your educational institution, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Removing the Stigma of Mental Health

Many people feel uncomfortable talking about mental health. Thanks to a long history of movies, books and news stories, the term “mental illness” may conjure up disturbing images of hallucinating schizophrenics, mass shootings and psychotic serial killers.Psycho movie image

The reality of mental health disorders is very different. In fact, these issues touch many of us:

  • One in five Americans is diagnosed with a mental health issue each year.
  • More than 40 million Americans live with depression.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.
  • Drug overdoses are the number one killer of Americans under the age of 50.

Despite these startling and far-reaching statistics, mental health issues continue to be seen as a source of shame and something to be kept quiet and out of public view. demi lovatoHundreds of celebrities have opened up and shared their personal battles with depression and other serious mental health issues – from singer Demi Lovato to swimmer Michael Phelps to actor Leonardo DiCaprio – and this has shined a much-needed light on the subject. Still, the stigma around mental health remainsleonardo dicaprio

For employers, mental health issues are a major drag on productivity and driver of healthcare expense. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States, and the CDC estimates it’s also the cause of 200 million lost work days per year, costing employers $44 billion in lost productivity. Compounding the problem is the common co-existence of medical and behavioral health disorders:

  • 68% of adults with a mental disorder have at least one medical disorder
  • 29% of adults with a medical disorder have at least one mental health disorder

Why don’t employees seek help? According to Suzanne Delbanco in How Employers Can View Mental Health Stigma, employees may be afraid to admit, even to themselves, that they need support with mental health. Or they may not be aware that their suffering may be due to anxiety or depression. Those who do recognize the need for treatment may be afraid to leave the office for therapy appointments lest co-workers or employers notice. Many fear, if their employer finds out they have a mental health condition, there may be negative repercussions. A 2017 survey shows that 31% of employees say they would be afraid of being labeled as weak, and 22% fear it would impact their opportunities for promotion.

Employers can play a major role in removing the stigma of mental health issues and it’s in their best interest to do so. Here’s what we’ve seen work:

  1. 97% of large companies (over 5,000 employees), as well as an estimated 75-80% of mid sized and smaller companies, have an Employee Assistance Program. Your EAP is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal to combat mental health stigma and increase employee access to help. This is certainly the case if you have a comprehensive EAP, but is unlikely to be true with a “free” EAP. So-called “free” EAPs embedded in disability insurance 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.
  1. Awareness and education 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 for employers to use to educate their 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)
  1. Promote awareness of the EAP and easy access to behavioral health treatment services at company benefit fairs.
  1. Create a culture of acceptance. 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 language/ labeling or bullying of employees with behavioral health challenges.
  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, they can dialogue 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.
  1. Develop a Peer Support Program to train employees to assist distressed employees and encourage them to access professional behavioral health services.
  1. 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 an on-site clinic is a natural wellness extension and further helps normalize the concept of mental health. If you’ve ever watched the popular Showtime series Billions, you’ve seen one of the main characters serving as the on-site therapist for fictional company, Axe Capital.
  1. As behavioral health professionals, let your EAP help you draft policies that permit employees to leave work to keep behavioral health or EAP appointments. Structure benefits and policies with the awareness that many areas are underserved in terms of psychiatrists, and alternatives to psychiatry may be needed.

Employers can make a big difference in encouraging and enabling employees with mental health issues to seek help.  We suggest this is the perfect time to start.