Mental health challenges don’t go away at work and stressful work environments can exacerbate existing problems. Bloomberg recently reported that employers want employees to support their colleagues who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge with Mental Health First Aid at Work (“Employers Want Workers to Help Colleagues in Crisis,” Bloomberg, January 11, 2018).
Mental Health First Aid at Work actively betters the lives of people in the workplace by providing employers with an actual plan to help their employees. Thus far, 40 employers have trained over 1,300 people in Mental Health First Aid at Work, including Aetna Inc., George Washington University, real estate developer Lendlease Group and the health-care technology companies Cerner Corp. and Netsmart Technologies.
In the coming year, an additional 6,000 employees will be trained in the program, meaning an additional 6,000 people will be able to recognize and respond to mental health and substance use challenges in their workplaces and among their peers.
“There’s a growing recognition that mental health and addiction problems are having an impact in many ways, driving up health care costs and absenteeism,” said Betsy Schwartz, the vice president of public education and strategic initiatives at National Council for Mental Wellbeing. “Companies know that’s true.”
In an age where 70 percent of people in the workforce experience depression and 35 million workdays are lost each year due to mental illness, knowing how to identify signs of mental health problems at work is imperative.
Take Jessica Caskey’s experience, for example. During her time as a human resources manager for a national park in Alaska, she fired an employee who placed an explosive device outside of their boss’s office. Reflecting on the incident upon being trained in Mental Health First Aid, she says she could have handled that situation better – the employee had previously showed symptoms of a mental health problem.
Since taking the training last year, Caskey reports to have already used the skills she learned from Mental Health First Aid in her new role as a manager at Taos ski resort in New Mexico – this time with a housekeeper who left an incoherent voicemail on her phone after atypically missing two days of work. Caskey decided to be direct and called her right back.
“Her voice was trembling, she was crying, and she kept saying ‘I just can’t do it anymore’,” Caskey said. “I jumped into action. I talked to her – again, using what the Instructors had taught: calm words, very quiet, not too excited. I gave her a feeling of value and purpose.”
After just a few weeks, surely enough, the housekeeper returned to her job.
Outcomes like those are exactly what the Mental Health First Aid at Work program helps to achieve for workplaces and work relationships across the country. Let’s increase mental health literacy and know how to safely and responsibly address a coworker’s mental health or substance use concerns in the workplace. To learn more about MHFA at Work, visit MHFA.org/workplace and complete the inquiry form.