As Awareness of Workplace Issues Increases, Employers Offer More Mental Health Services | Health
Fidelity Investments has expanded its in-house offering of free therapist sessions.
Manufacturer Hypertherm saw enrollment in its employee assistance program triple.
And Community Mental Health set up “peer discussion groups” via Zoom for employees to share their concerns with outside doctors.
Many employers across the state have added mental health services or promoted existing programs as their workers face increased stress and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Altered World ushered in a greater emphasis on mental wellness in the workplace.
“The reality is that COVID has had a profound impact on people’s mental health,” said Susan Stearns, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-New Hampshire.
Stearns called the pandemic a “collective social traumatic event.”
“One thing that isolation has really reinforced is that we are social creatures,” Stearns said. “A lot of social interaction happens in the workplace, right?”
The pandemic transformed the way workers completed their tasks and interacted with each other.
Nearly 1 in 5 American workers rated their mental health as fair or poor in a Gallup poll conducted last summer, and they were missing work more often.
“Projected over a 12-month period, workers with fair or poor mental health are estimated to have nearly 12 days of unplanned absence per year compared to 2.5 days for all other workers,” Gallup said.
Lost work costs the US economy an estimated $47.6 billion annually in lost productivity.
Four in 10 American workers reported that their job had an adverse impact, either extremely negative (7%) or somewhat negative (33%), on their mental health, Gallup said.
At Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord, management also rented out massage chairs several times for its 400-person workforce to take breaks.
“It gave people the feeling that they were spending half an hour of their day taking care of themselves,” said Jaime Corwin, vice president of human resources. “That’s been so popular that we’re going to try to do it twice a year.”
No immune age group
Workplace-related mental health problems are not limited to a single generation.
Sandy Demarest has seen older workers experience feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear during the pandemic.
“Due to anxiety about returning to work in person, many older workers, in theory, prefer to work remotely,” said Demarest, a mid-career and retirement coach at Demarest Directions in Milford.
“On the other hand, loneliness and isolation are at an all-time high for those later in life,” he said. “So by working remotely, the benefit of connecting through work takes on a new guise.”
Some employers are challenged with finding the right balance so workers feel safe, healthy and engaged, he said.
Some older workers have changed addresses.
“Many of my clients have retired early and are putting a new focus on business options,” Demarest said. “Although there may be risks involved, they believe there are also risks in staying with a company that is not addressing the above challenges. As people live and work longer, evaluation by both employer and employee is important to forge the best path forward.”
Younger workers also struggle with loneliness.
Stay Work Play, an organization that works to attract and retain young New Hampshire residents, has data that even before the pandemic, 21% of young Granite Staters reported “feeling lonely, saying they had no friends or family close”. said Will Stewart, the group’s chief executive.
“That feeling of loneliness and isolation only seemed to increase during the pandemic as working from home became more widespread,” Stewart said.
However, younger residents seem more open to seeking professional help.
“We’re certainly hearing young workers talk more about mental health in recent years. There seems to be less stigma attached to millennials and Gen Z in particular, not only speaking publicly about their mental health issues, but also seeking professional help through therapy,” Stewart said.
“More and more employers are recognizing the mental health needs of their employees, but most are still trying to figure out how to best support these needs,” Stewart said.
“I don’t see as many employers that have established support systems within the workplace,” said Stewart, who listens to people who are having difficulty getting appointments for mental health services. “I think younger employees are more likely to discuss their challenges with their peers in person or on social media, but this type of peer support diminishes with age.”
More need for counseling
Advocates encourage more people to get professional help.
But, “It puts a real strain on the system because we have more people seeking care,” NAMI’s Stearns said recently.
“The reality is that before COVID we had a mental health crisis on our hands and it has only been exacerbated,” Stearns said. “I say that because we had a labor shortage before COVID. COVID made it worse.”
Corwin in Riverbend recognized the problem.
“There are definitely statewide waiting lists for mental health services, but I think wait times have a lot of variables, so I couldn’t really say what the average would be,” Corwin said.
Employers can offer relief to employees who may need a day off due to stress or anxiety.
“We’re seeing more and more employers specifically saying that paid time off can be used as a ‘mental health day,’” Stearns said.
That “will help break down the stigma,” he said.
Stearns said she sees more employers reaching out to her organization for training on how to respond to employees who “think their employer has a role to play in resolving mental health issues.”
Fidelity, which employed more than 7,000 workers in New Hampshire as of October, set aside two “quiet rooms” for reflection at its Merrimack buildings, spokesman Stephen Austin said.
Some workers are also eligible to work with a wellness coach for free.
The financial services firm also added more walking trails and a bike-sharing program to its tree-lined campus.
“Fidelity recognizes that the mental health landscape has evolved significantly in recent years, and as such, we remain vigilant to evolving offerings to ensure we best support our associates and their loved ones,” Megan Bourque, Head of Fidelity’s profits, he said in an email.
Concern at all levels
The mental health of workers was an issue important enough for the federal government to issue a report.
The “US Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health and Well-Being in the Workplace” said the pandemic changed the nature of work and the way workers relate to their jobs.
“The pandemic has also caused a reckoning among many workers who no longer feel that sacrificing their health, family, and communities for work is acceptable compensation,” the report says. “Organizations are also becoming increasingly aware of another trade-off: When workers’ mental health suffers, so does workplace productivity, creativity, and retention.”
Stress can increase a person’s risk of diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Chronic stress has also been linked to an increased risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, cancer and autoimmune diseases, according to the report.
He suggested greater employee autonomy related to how work gets done, greater access to paid leave, providing a living wage, and building a culture of gratitude and appreciation.
Hypertherm, which employs 1,100 in the Upper Valley and 1,900 globally, saw the number of workers using its employee assistance program triple from 2019 to 2021. The program also provides free and confidential mental health counseling by phone for employees and their families. as access to other resources for help with other problems.
“This could be due to increased need, or it could be due to increased awareness and therefore greater acceptance of accessing support resources for issues such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders,” said Jim Rowe, senior director of human resources. Centers of Excellence at Hypertherm.
“We view people seeking treatment and services as positive, and we are pleased that we have built strong partnerships with benefit partners and community organizations that provide these vital services,” Rowe said.
worst case scenarios
Psychotherapist Stacey Freedenthal knows people with suicidal thoughts.
She tried to take her own life twice about three decades ago when she was 20 years old.
“My mind was really messed up,” Freedenthal said during a video interview from Colorado, where he lives. “I really thought my parents would be relieved of a burden.”
Today, Freedenthal is nationally recognized for her expertise in helping people struggling with mental health and suicidal thoughts.
“I think it’s given me insight and empathy about suicidal experiences that I wouldn’t have had (otherwise),” Freedenthal said.
She is the author of a new book out this month: “Loving Someone Suicidal: What Family, Friends, and Partners Can Say and Do.”
“One of her main messages is being able to listen without immediately trying to convince someone of their feelings or immediately encouraging them or changing their mind,” Freedenthal said.
“We know that people with suicidal thoughts are more likely to confide in friends and family than see a mental health professional,” Freedenthal said.
“Some people will disagree with me on this, but I think you shouldn’t call the police unless you absolutely have to,” he said.
“I think that can do more damage. It can prevent the person from trusting others to move forward, so I would recommend it unless the person is about to take action to end their life or has already done something like overdose on pills, for example. unless you are truly in immediate danger. danger, I think having a conversation is the important thing.”
Freedenthal, a mother of a young adult son, said she is concerned about today’s youth.
“Their lives are much more difficult than they were when I was a young adult and still suicidal.”
“Notice: A Year-Long Mental Health Awareness Journey” is financially supported in part by Dartmouth Health.