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How Companies Teach Their Employees First Aid for Mental Health

At Delta Air Lines’ Atlanta headquarters in late January, 24 employees are arguing over which of them has the worst disease. Half of them had been given cards naming a physical or mental health diagnosis and were told to line up, from the least debilitating to the most.

The woman holding “gingivitis” quickly takes a place at the far left of the line. But everyone further down to the right—low back pain, moderate depression, paraplegia, severe PTSD—keeps switching spots.

“Severe vision loss,” someone says to the man holding the corresponding card, “are you a pilot?” He doesn’t know. There is no further information: not what the person does for a living, whether their condition is well managed, or if they have health care coverage.

“We’re in a pickle down here,” a woman pleads to the instructor, Rochele Burnette, who’s standing by, silent and smiling. Burnette waits until someone finally suggests the right answer: they should be in a vertical line, not a horizontal one. “How we look at a mental disorder and how we look at a physical condition should be the same,” Burnette says. “One could be just as debilitating as the other.”

This is the first lesson of Mental Health First Aid at Work, a training that the National Council for Behavioral Health provides, for a cost, to a growing number of corporations. Of the people taking today’s class, some were there because they had seen firsthand how much a mental health crisis can impact the workplace. A Delta employee killed himself several months ago, and counselors were brought in to help the many people who were affected. Others wanted to improve their mental-health vocabulary, and their confidence in handling related issues. “When someone says, ‘Hi, do you have a minute?’ we never really know what’s going to follow,” one HR employee says in the class. “Sometimes it’s very easy, and sometimes we quickly find ourselves in uncomfortable situations.”

Over the next four hours, the Delta employees learn how to spot symptoms and warning signs of possible mental health concerns in a colleague, reach out and offer initial help, then guide them to professional help and the resources the company offers, like short-term counseling through the free employee assistance program (EAP) and a confidential app that lets you chat immediately with behavioral health coaches. Getting the words right can be tricky; much of the class is devoted to figuring out what to say to a coworker in distress. On everybody’s desk is a handout of helpful and harmful phrases. “One of the things you’ll see on your card is How are you doing, really?” says Burnette. “That ‘really’ really pulls out something extra.” In the potentially harmful category: putting off the conversation until later in the week, suggesting they simply work it out with their manager, or telling them to “just hang in there.”

The office may seem an unlikely place for such a class, but Burnette reminds her students that the historical norm to keep your personal life at home is unrealistic. “What affects you in your life affects you in your work,” she tells the group.

There are no requirements that U.S. employers provide mental health training. But as mental illness diagnoses and suicide rates rise in the U.S., while the stigma of talking about them drops, companies are finding that their employees want a bigger focus on mental health at work. “A little over a year ago, we really started to hear more and more from employees about the need for these kinds of services,” says Rob Kight, senior vice president of human resources at Delta. “It caused us to take a deep look at what we were providing. And we decided, you know, it’s not enough.”

Prioritizing employees’ mental health has become not just a moral issue, but also a tool to recruit and retain young talent. A 2019 poll by the American Psychiatric Association found that millennials—who now comprise the largest generation in the U.S. workforce—tend to be more comfortable than their older peers discussing their mental health at work. Investing in this area may also make financial sense, since untreated mental illness and substance abuse issues can be costly for employers. Untreated depression alone costs the average 1,000-person U.S. company more than $1.4 million per year due to missed days and lost productivity, according to the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation.

Corporate trainings have emerged as popular solutions, and Mental Health First Aid at Work is among the most widely used. Mental Health First Aid started in 2000 in Australia as a way to educate people about what to do when they encounter someone experiencing mental health problems, which are much more common than the emergencies traditional first aid courses teach. It later spread to 27 countries, each with their own licensing organizations. In the U.S., the National Council for Behavioral Health runs the program, and in 2013 it launched a version tailored for the workplace. More than 200 companies—including Bank of America, Gillette, Starbucks and Unilever—have offered one or both of its four- and eight-hour training programs to employees, says Betsy Schwartz, vice president for public education and strategic initiatives at the National Council for Behavioral Health.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in corporate interest,” Schwartz says. “In companies that train a larger number of employees, we get feedback about a whole culture shift.” Though there hasn’t been much research on the work-specific training, some studies have found that Mental Health First Aid improves knowledge about mental health, and confidence in responding to related issues, for the people who take it. The benefits to the person receiving help from a person who’s gone through the training, however, are not clear.

The number of organizations that run this type of training is growing. The Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation is developing a digital training for managers called “Notice. Talk. Act. at Work,” which teaches the early warning signs of mental health issues and how to have empathetic, compassionate conversations. “We cannot talk about mental health enough in the workplace,” says Darcy Gruttadaro, director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health. “We have a long way to go—the more we can reinforce it, the better.” Some companies have developed their own programs. The consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton trained all employees in 2018 and 2019 to spot the five signs of emotional suffering—depression, in other words. The professional services firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) offers digital training to help employees recognize the signs that a colleague is struggling and connect them to company resources.

Merely offering services and resources isn’t always enough. Employees have to know about and trust them. Most large companies have a free EAP, for example, which typically offers short-term counseling sessions and other wellbeing services for employees and their family members through outside providers. But even when people are aware that their company has an EAP, they often fear their HR department is monitoring who uses the programs, and that doing so could be a black mark on their employment record. As a result, many studies show that EAPs have historically been underused. “There shouldn’t be, but there is a stigma around this that exists in our country,” says Kight. “We have to help break that down and let people know that it’s okay to take advantage of these services.”

Soon, the two dozen Delta employees in today’s training will join the more than 600 who have completed Mental Health First Aid at Work since the airline started offering it in 2019. Though it’s not mandatory, the goal is for all 90,000 employees to take it, according to Delta’s HR team.

After Burnette gives the students a lesson in what to do if a coworker is having a panic attack, she ends on a hopeful note: proven ways a person can help themselves feel better. Exercise is one, and so are sleep, relaxation and 12-step programs. “But let me tell you something about this one right here,” she says, pointing to a slide on family, friends, faith and other social networks. “When you know you have people you can talk to that are nonjudgmental—I can go to you and have the conversation, and no matter what, you’ll listen—people have had better outcomes, because they have support.”

“I want to speak to that, because I’ve been thinking about how I can articulate this,” says a young man sitting in the front row. “Very early on in life, I found myself trying to remove stigma around mental health and talk about it, because I saw it in my family. It made me say to myself, I don’t want this to happen to me, so how can I make it normal? I started to talk to my friends and people that I’m close with. I say, hey guys, let’s get together and have drinks, and talk about what’s really going on.”

There’s no reason why conversations like these can’t happen in the workplace, too, the new thinking goes. “We’ve all grown up thinking certain conversations are professional and certain conversations are not professional,” Burnette says. “We bring our whole selves to work, so why can’t we talk about our whole self?”

By Mandy Oaklander February 12, 2020

Source: How Companies Teach Their Employees First Aid for Mental Health

Workplace wellness is important, and a key component is paying attention to employees’ mental health. In fact, 217 workdays are lost each year as a result of mental illness and substance use disorders. Learn how Mental Health First Aid can help start the conversation on mental health in your place of work.

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Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid

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Editors’ Note: Following the huge popularity of this post, article source Amy Morin has authored a guest post on exercises to increase mental strength here and Cheryl Conner has interviewed Amy in a Forbes video chat about this article here.

For all the time executives spend concerned about physical strength and health, when it comes down to it, mental strength can mean even more. Particularly for entrepreneurs, numerous articles talk about critical characteristics of mental strength—tenacity, “grit,” optimism, and an unfailing ability as Forbes contributor David Williams says, to “fail up.”

However, we can also define mental strength by identifying the things mentally strong individuals don’t do. Over the weekend, I was impressed by this list compiled by Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker,  that she shared in LifeHack. It impressed me enough I’d also like to share her list here along with my thoughts on how each of these items is particularly applicable to entrepreneurs.

1.    Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves. You don’t see mentally strong people feeling sorry for their circumstances or dwelling on the way they’ve been mistreated. They have learned to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes, and they have an inherent understanding of the fact that frequently life is not fair. They are able to emerge from trying circumstances with self-awareness and gratitude for the lessons learned. When a situation turns out badly, they respond with phrases such as “Oh, well.” Or perhaps simply, “Next!”

2. Give Away Their Power. Mentally strong people avoid giving others the power to make them feel inferior or bad. They understand they are in control of their actions and emotions. They know their strength is in their ability to manage the way they respond.

3.    Shy Away from Change. Mentally strong people embrace change and they welcome challenge. Their biggest “fear,” if they have one, is not of the unknown, but of becoming complacent and stagnant. An environment of change and even uncertainty can energize a mentally strong person and bring out their best.

4. Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control. Mentally strong people don’t complain (much) about bad traffic, lost luggage, or especially about other people, as they recognize that all of these factors are generally beyond their control. In a bad situation, they recognize that the one thing they can always control is their own response and attitude, and they use these attributes well.

5. Worry About Pleasing Others. Know any people pleasers? Or, conversely, people who go out of their way to dis-please others as a way of reinforcing an image of strength? Neither position is a good one. A mentally strong person strives to be kind and fair and to please others where appropriate, but is unafraid to speak up. They are able to withstand the possibility that someone will get upset and will navigate the situation, wherever possible, with grace.

6. Fear Taking Calculated Risks. A mentally strong person is willing to take calculated risks. This is a different thing entirely than jumping headlong into foolish risks. But with mental strength, an individual can weigh the risks and benefits thoroughly, and will fully assess the potential downsides and even the worst-case scenarios before they take action.

7. Dwell on the Past. There is strength in acknowledging the past and especially in acknowledging the things learned from past experiences—but a mentally strong person is able to avoid miring their mental energy in past disappointments or in fantasies of the “glory days” gone by. They invest the majority of their energy in creating an optimal present and future.

8. Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over. We all know the definition of insanity, right? It’s when we take the same actions again and again while hoping for a different and better outcome than we’ve gotten before. A mentally strong person accepts full responsibility for past behavior and is willing to learn from mistakes. Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of spectacularly successful executives and entrepreneurs.

9. Resent Other People’s Success. It takes strength of character to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success. Mentally strong people have this ability. They don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed (although they may take close notes on what the individual did well). They are willing to work hard for their own chances at success, without relying on shortcuts.

10. Give Up After Failure. Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from every “failure” can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.

11. Fear Alone Time. Mentally strong people enjoy and even treasure the time they spend alone. They use their downtime to reflect, to plan, and to be productive. Most importantly, they don’t depend on others to shore up their happiness and moods. They can be happy with others, and they can also be happy alone.

12. Feel the World Owes Them Anything. Particularly in the current economy, executives and employees at every level are gaining the realization that the world does not owe them a salary, a benefits package and a comfortable life, regardless of their preparation and schooling. Mentally strong people enter the world prepared to work and succeed on their merits, at every stage of the game.

13. Expect Immediate Results. Whether it’s a workout plan, a nutritional regimen, or starting a business, mentally strong people are “in it for the long haul”. They know better than to expect immediate results. They apply their energy and time in measured doses and they celebrate each milestone and increment of success on the way. They have “staying power.” And they understand that genuine changes take time. Do you have mental strength? Are there elements on this list you need more of? With thanks to Amy Morin, I would like to reinforce my own abilities further in each of these areas today. How about you?

Cheryl Snapp Conner is a frequent speaker and author on reputation and thought leadership. You can subscribe to her team’s bi-weekly newsletter, The Snappington Post, here.

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I am an entrepreneur and communications expert from Salt Lake City and founder of SnappConner PR. I am the author of Beyond PR

 

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2013/11/18/mentally-strong-people-the-13-things-they-avoid/#2bd3b0056d75

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