If you don’t feel well, you can’t do well.
Businesses throughout Greater Lansing were reminded of that truism in working through the coronavirus pandemic, which has stricken laborers and squeezed economies locally and globally. But the stress of living through such a turbulent time has also triggered a mental health crisis among employers and employees alike.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found more than 40% of adults surveyed reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition related to the pandemic and/or its related economic and societal fallout. Those conditions include anxiety, depression and substance abuse, among others.
“With the pandemic and the worries about the virus and the physical health of the people of Michigan, there’s also the worry about the mental health aspects of this,” said Dr. Debra Pinals, the medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “We know that a quarantine-type situation creates all sorts of stresses; the whole idea of getting sick creates stresses.”
Workplaces can be a hub for stressors, but also opportunities to alleviate that stress.
During this pandemic, we are seeing societal mental health issues play out in our workplaces every day. A sense of fear and unrest in the community can contribute to burnout and stress in the workplace, concerns about morale or confidence and isolation,” said Jennifer Cronkite, a mental health therapist and prevention specialist with the Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham Counties.
“However, when we have a sense of camaraderie and movement in the community — support for social issues, support for essential workers, a feeling of rallying together — this is also reflected in our professional spaces,” she added. “When we feel supported in our communities, we feel better able to effect positive changes via our professional positions as well.”
A failure to address mental health issues among workers can lead to low performance, high turnover, poor morale and a diminished bottom line.
“There’s a lot of data that suggests mental illnesses, depression and anxiety can be some of the biggest causes of disability, of people not coming to work, not being able to work,” Pinals said.
Some barriers to betterment may be the workplace itself.
“There may be policies or practices within workplaces that further stigmatize people with mental illnesses or do not give them the same advantages that someone with physical health conditions might have,” Pinals said.
So having holistic policies and resources at work are key to keeping workers healthy and productive.
“We know mental health conditions are prevalent and take a huge toll, but we also know that treatment is effective, especially if accessed early on,” said Sara Lurie, the chief executive officer of the Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham Counties. “We need business leaders to do their part to reduce stigma, be willing to share their own stories, and to normalize and encourage seeking help for behavioral health conditions. Employers can help by communicating the importance of mental health and stress management in the workplace and supporting health promotion programs that combine mental and physical health information.”
The Community Mental Health Authority offers a free confidential online mental health screening platform that employers can promote to their employees at ceicmh.org. The Greater Lansing chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness also provides education and support at namilansing.org.
Destigmatizing Mental Wellness
You wouldn’t tell someone to tough it out through a heart attack; you’d insist they get professional help. It’s no different with mental health issues.
“It’s really important that we create infrastructures in the workplace that support employees” and their mental health needs, said Dr. Debra Pinals, the medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Pinals’ suggestions include:
Giving people opportunities to support each other through peer programs and positive messaging throughout the workspace.
For more information on available resources, go to michigan.gov/staywell.