Making a Business Case for Mental Health
The DMEC’s Terri Rhodes shares some suggestions for how to train managers to address mental health in the workplace in a compassionate, appropriate way.
This is my first “Frasier” blog of 2017. I’ve decided it’s my mission to remind people what a treasure this 90s gem is. It explores everything from serious mental health issues to complicated familial dynamics to silly everyday misunderstandings. I did my research this weekend and discovered that no blog exists that is dedicated solely to “Frasier.” No CafeNervosa.net. No MartysChair.edu. No SherryPlease.com. Oy vey. Time to step up my game.
As I write this, I think of a particular podcast that rises to a similar challenge. “Frasierphiles” describes itself as the only show with a “Frasier First Focus,” the first time that phrase has ever been used, realistically. It’s hosted by Mark Robison and Darren Mitcheem, one of whom says, “All I think about every night is how f****** good Frasier is.” (Me too!) The other describes the television series with the phrase, “It’s like looking at a beautiful cabinet!” in the first podcast episode. A beautiful cabinet full of sherry, perhaps, or cans of Ballantine? I’d say a beautiful cabinet full of witty dialogue and honest conversations that normalize mental health problems.
A stretch, perhaps, but it brings me to the heart of this blog, a conversation I had with Terri Rhodes, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. The DMEC recently released a report about mental health in the workplace, and its primary thesis was the importance of making the business case for mental health and normalizing mental illness. One in five people deal with a mental health situation on a daily basis, according to the report.
Currently, many employers offer mental health services such as screenings through health risk assessment programs or EAPs, but being able to make a business case is important if employers want to put together a new program that specifically addresses mental health, said Rhodes. Using aggregate (not individual) data from disability claims and FMLA claims, for example, can help put a dollar sign to the impact of mental illness in terms of absences, productivity and presenteeism. In this way, using data identifies that there is, in fact, a problem.
A current problem regarding mental illness in the workplace is stigma, said Rhodes, who seeks to normalize it in the workplace and show that for the most part it is treatable. “Not all mental illness is, ‘The sky is falling!’ Those are outliers,” she said.
We also discussed what mental health training for managers should look like. “In the past, even in HR, we’re told, don’t say anything, don’t ask somebody how they’re doing, don’t talk to them,” she said. “What that does is increase the stigma.”
It’s important to teach managers and supervisors that mental illness is not bad and train them how to address it in their workplace. Rhodes recommended, for example, a couple of free training programs offered through the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and Stamp Out Stigma.
This type of training should hit a few key notes, according to Rhodes. For example, managers should be able to look out for signs that somebody may be having an issue. They should be able to speak about mental illness rather than avoid the topic.
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The communication-avoidance paradigm seemed a bit impossible to me at first. As unhelpful as avoidance is, how open can communication regarding mental illness actually be without seeming invasive? What is the right way to communicate without probing?
Rhodes recommended that managers be inclusive and friendly rather than be afraid of asking any questions at all when it comes to mental illness. Appropriate questions could be, How are you doing? Or, is there anything you need that will help you do your job better?
Rhodes also mentioned that 10 years ago, employers seemed to lose interest in mental health, but she’s seen a shift in attitude in the past couple years. Employers have been more willing the address mental illness. The problem itself — the high cost mental illness can have on the workplace; stigma; etc. — hasn’t changed, she said. “But employers’ awareness of their ability to make an impact is different.”
Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.