Compared to April 2019, calls to the NJ Mental Health Cares hotline and the NJHopeLine were up 37% in April 2020 when residents were in the earliest and most serious throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics from hotlines around the country showed similar increases as the pandemic and its effects – public health challenges, economic issues, isolation – compounded.
Employers should take the challenges of this past year as an impetus to bring mental health into their workplace, a panel of experts explained during the NJBIZ Mental Health in the Workplace virtual panel discussion on July 27.
How to get people to ask for help is “the million-dollar question,” said Hackensack Meridian Health Chief Wellness Officer Dr. Amy Frieman.
“For a lot of people, it’s really human nature that we should just be stoic,” she said. “We should just put our heads down, and we should power through it, even if we’re struggling … everybody else seems to be coping with this, right? Everybody else is doing just fine, so what’s wrong with me?”
Frieman, whose industry’s employees were particularly hard hit by the traumas of the COVID-19 pandemic as frontline workers, said employers can step up and break through the stigma of asking for help by simply giving workers the chance to talk.
“It’s about doing listening groups and it’s about doing facilitated sessions for team members because people need to share their experiences. We’ve done a lot of change management sessions and I think the whole goal of all of this is helping people to understand that they are definitely not alone,” Frieman said.
Frieman was joined by Penn Medicine Princeton House Director of Outpatient Services and Director of Addiction Services Nicole Orro and Baker Street Behavioral Health Founding Partner and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Joe Galasso.
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Click here to register to watch the NJBIZ Mental Health in the Workplace virtual panel discussion.
Galasso said that his clinic had an uptick in calls from legal and financial services sector employees over the pandemic because their jobs never slowed down, and they had fallen into substance use or into a pattern of depression. In response, Baker Street worked with various New Jersey firms to set up psychology groups within their firms.
Adding a mental health component to the inner workings of a business is “rethinking within your organization,” he said, and it doesn’t just have a selfless, supportive purpose. It makes business sense, too.
“We just can’t say we’re not going to deal with this. We have to have a conversation about how to deal with this, and that’s the best thing we could do, because not having that conversation is going to sink your business right because people will ultimately leave if they don’t feel cared for,” Galasso said.
Benefiting from benefits
The panelists said that employers should also consider offering mental health benefits such as an employee assistance program, which is a work-based counseling program where employees put forth the problems they’re facing to try to work through them.
First thing’s first, though: Before getting people to work through their issues, Orro said they need to be aware it’s offered.
“They may understand the dentistry piece of [the insurance they’re offered], but they may not understand what it means to have an intensive outpatient benefit, or a medication management benefit. One of the key elements is going to be as an employee being able to access human resources and whatever online portals there are to be able to see [what benefits they can use] to access [mental health services],” Orro said.
Proactively make that information available to the employees that are going to be needing them, she said.