Perspective: Investing in Workplace Mental Health Resources with Amy Otto

Investing in Workplace Mental Health Resources with by Amy Otto

 

Is it just me or have others felt a dark cloud following them the last few months?

For anyone who knows me, I’m typically an optimist and always searching for the good in every person and situation. But, lately, this dark cloud has become heavier and heavier. Suddenly, life as I knew it drastically changed as COVID-19 took away my primary energy source – contact and relationships with people. I quickly felt isolated and alone despite the added activity of having my wonderful, grown children and husband at home during quarantine. It was just the four of us, at home…ALL OF THE TIME.  

Others around me seemed to be thriving during the new norm of working from home. People were constantly posting pictures and videos of fresh baked bread and adorable dog videos while I was sitting for 10 straight hours looking at my computer screen, oftentimes re-reading the same two sentences of an email for 15 minutes or more. I wanted my old life back.

I loved my social life, traveling to see clients, concerts and parties, volunteering, even the little things like choosing my own produce at the grocery store. I missed reminiscing about the weekend with my coworkers Monday morning, the daily hug from my favorite maintenance man, and yoga classes. I missed the experiences I hadn’t even had yet, like our whale watching trip we’d been planning for over a year, or our tickets to see Hamilton. I couldn’t even place words to describe how I was feeling. My head was foggy, my heart was heavy, and it felt like someone punched me in the gut. I was just…sad.

I should feel fortunate to have a job and business should be booming, right?  After all, I work for a telemedicine company and telemedicine was all over the news. But fear, uncertainty and panic placed client decisions on hold. Clients were furloughing employees, other frontline contacts in hospitals left on leave after contracting the virus. My days were filled with stories of sadness and pain. I wanted so badly to help, yet I was feeling helpless and hopeless.

All I could do was listen, but sometimes listening is all you can do to help. 

My employer cares

I’m fortunate to work for an incredible employer and with teammates and leadership that truly care. I quickly became aware of how much depression can damper productivity, but I was able to find comfort in talking with co-workers and through the two sessions with mental health professionals that Jack, VirtualMed Staff’s President, set up to help our team during all of these challenging times (You can find both sessions here and here). For me, just hearing that it was okay to be “sad” and hearing strategies to turn the stress and anxiety I’m feeling into post-traumatic growth made a huge difference. My employer cares.

I was the recipient of a wonderful gift from my employer - mental health resources. After a year of researching the benefits of providing workplace wellness and mental health resources and justifying the ROI for employers and onsite employer clinics as part of a business growth strategy, I was finally able to experience the benefits of easily accessible mental health resources first-hand

So, why workplace mental health?

We need to prepare for what’s to come

We have an unprecedented situation before us with the coronavirus pandemic. A recent TIME magazine article stated that last month roughly 70% of Americans in a nationwide poll experienced moderate-to-severe mental distress due to COVID-19. Dealing with social isolation, anxiety about health, economic issues, and lack of sleep are already difficult to deal with, but with COVID-19, all these triggers are hitting individuals and families at once. Calls to suicide support helplines were up nearly 300% in the first week of April. Mental health issues in America aren’t new, either. In 2019, suicide was the second highest cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10-34, despite being considered a preventable public health crisis.

In short, we’re simply not prepared for what’s to come.

COVID-19 is not only a viral pandemic, but really a pandemic of mental health and addiction, as well. In a sense, you cannot separate the virus from the enormous devastation and tragedy that this virus is causing all Americans in one form or another. Whether it’s losing a loved one, a job, or experiencing sudden economic instability, the uncertainty hanging in the air is comparable to historical events like the trauma that followed 9/11. The trauma of that day manifested itself in higher rates of disability, anxiety, and depression.

No one is going to escape the mental health impact of COVID-19, but employers can help.  

Investing in workplace mental health resources

We typically don’t talk about mental health. People still feel the shadow of judgment and shame when someone says that they have a “mental health issue.” It still feels viscerally like it’s a personal moral failing on the part of people who suffer from it, but employers can change this by encouraging a culture of compassion and openness by offering mental health resources and easy access to care and treatment. 

Mental health advocacy needs the leadership that only employers can provide. After all, people spend most of their day in the workplace and it is where mental health resources can make the biggest impact – not only in terms of culture but also in ROI. We know good mental health has a huge ROI that can be defined in several ways: lower absentee rates, higher productivity rates through lower presenteeism, and greater employee retention. Better mental health equals less money employers spend on healthcare claims, right?              

Think about it this way, if you or someone you knew had a broken leg and couldn’t walk because of the pain, wouldn’t you seek medical attention? Why should mental health be treated any differently?

VirtualMed Staff can help. 

I would love to tell you how we custom create affordable telehealth programs for employers, hospitals, clinics and universities. Contact me to learn more, or if you need someone to just listen, because sometimes listening is all you can do to help. 

Amy Otto 404-310-1777, or email me at aotto@virtualmedstaff.com