May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s no secret the COVID Pandemic has put employees through tremendous stress.
“Quarantining, isolating and social distancing is very contrary to every fiber of how we are created as human beings,” said Ward Blanchet, Founder and CEO of The Blanchard Institute, Catapult’s guest expert during May’s installment of Thinking Differently. “We’ve without a doubt been negatively impacted over the past few years. It’s important to gain insight on how that’s influenced society not only on a personal level but as organizations.”
How do employers fit into this mix? How does this impact the workplace, and what can employers do to support employees?
The role of employers in mental health
It’s important to recognize that professional stress does impact personal life, and vice-versa. Especially since burnout isn’t a new concept.
“The harder you work, the more respectable you are in American society,” says Ward. When coupled with the isolation and instability presented by the pandemic, “people’s mental health and anxiety were thrown into overdrive.”
It’s estimated that poor mental health and substance abuse annually contributes to $1 trillion in profit loss globally. That makes sense when you consider that clinical depression is the leading cause of global medical disability.
Chronic stress is a leading cause of clinical depression and experiencing prolonged anxiety doesn’t support healthy brain functioning.
“Employers do not function well when employees are not operating with a well-functioning frontal cortex, which is heavily damaged by stress hormones,” says Ward. “It’s not good for performance. It’s not good for culture.”
What society can do
- Be realistic to reduce misconceptions. “Simply put, we need to reduce the stigma of substance abuse,” says Ward. “76% of people who struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD) have a fully functioning job.”
As a society, Ward asserts that employers must be realistic about their internal staff being part of that statistic. “The assumption that people who have SUD and are external to everyday society is a gross assumption. 49% of US Workers are struggling with substance abuse or alcohol abuse. That’s a lot of people.”
Ward emphasizes that while EAP and token workplace initiatives are incredibly important, they aren’t enough for creating a sense of belonging and safety.
“Only 3% of employees at companies with EAPs access those programs,” says Ward. “Plus, 46% of the workforce need mental health support but don’t access it. That largely falls on stigma. Employees don’t feel like they can access these programs without repercussions.”
- Realize those struggling with SUDs are ill. Under substance abuse, executive functioning parts of the brain are not functioning properly. “Without a working brain, struggling employees can’t understand or have the motivation to get better. That’s because they don’t have the frontal cortex functioning to help them comply with the healthiest choice for them,” says Ward.
- Realizing healing takes time. The retraining of the brain, or neuroplasticity, takes time—a year-and-a-half to two years—to stabilize. “It takes consistency, not intensity,” says Ward. “Recovery and mental health stability are absolutely possible.” For employees with SUDs, it’s about setting boundaries and enforcing compliance. Getting EAP informed is an overwhelmingly significant factor in ensuring success.
What Employers can do
- Consider Outpatient Resources. “People think that mental health is not an employer’s role,” says Ward. “However, employers must accept the reality that people who are showing up to our organizations are facing extreme stress and substance abuse disorders. It’s important that we treat this disease with evidence-based treatment. “
The Blanchard Institute is an excellence-focused, clinically focused, safety and trauma-focused, and family-focused outpatient resource that meets the clinical and medical criteria necessary to make a difference.
“We help companies understand how to support employees and to understand the role of workplaces,” says Ward. “Burnout has played a great role in the increase in mental health issues and substance abuse, so we need compassionate workplace communities. That’s how we create sustainable working populations.”
Ward also emphasizes the importance of assessment, using a measurable tool to understand where someone is in their SUD journey. A series of questions and evidence-based tests need to present reports and metrics. These metrics help create a measurable recommendation and understand levels of care.
- Be informed. Ward emphasizes the importance of gathering the correct information and informing ourselves as employers. Attending excellent educational and cultural resources, like Catapult’s Thinking Differently monthly series, is an excellent start. Engaging in these topics through our Employer’s Association is a great way to begin taking your initiatives off the ground.
- Conduct staff training. “We do diversity training, sexual harassment, nonviolence… but mental health needs to be done with all staff, too,” says Ward. “North Carolina has the highest rate of substance abuse and the lowest rate of resources in the country.” One resource is Mental Health America of the Central Carolinas. They’re a non-profit organization providing mental health advocacy, education and services to employers in North Carolina.
Interested in learning more recommendations from our guest expert? Review the full Thinking Differently session recording. You can also sign up for our next Thinking Differently session to further your employer education.