Many leaders within Space benefits You know mental health resources are now an essential offering — but more importantly, effective access can mean the difference between life and death.
According to the CDC, 132 Americans die by suicide every day and more than half of Americans report being affected by suicide to varying degrees. While talking about depression and suicide has long been a taboo in the workplace, these topics are on many workers’ minds, whether they pertain to loved ones or themselves, says Bert Alicia, psychologist and executive vice president of EAP and Work/Life Services at Health Advocate , an employee assistance program resource for employers across the country.
“The goal is to create as many access points as possible,” says Alicia. “We want to make sure employees know it’s okay not to be unwell.”
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Health Advocate provides EAPs and leadership training focused on mental health management. EAPs typically include up to five free sessions with a mental health provider who is within the employee’s insurance network, as well as a suicide prevention hotline number, where counselors and nurses with behavioral health backgrounds are available to employees each day.
But for an EAP to be effective, it must be visible. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and Alicia and his team have taken extra efforts to boost mental health resources for employers. However, this work can be done outside of September as well – Alicia advises employers to provide monthly communication and outreach materials that draw attention to their music work program and the wide range of resources it provides. Whether supporting caregivers to relieve financial stress, EAP programs can address many aspects that affect mental health.
“We empower people with choices and continually provide education and resources to members after Suicide Prevention Awareness Month,” says Alicia. “Employees need to know that if they are experiencing issues such as depression, anxiety or social isolation, we are only a phone call away.
Health Advocate’s EAPs also provide an anonymous login to their website, where employees can take mental health tests and access resources anonymously. Counseling doesn’t have to be face to face either. Employees can contact via text message, phone call or video chat.
However, EAPs cannot be the ultimate solution, especially when it comes to a problem like suicide.
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For Alicia, one of the most common misconceptions he often hears about suicide is that there weren’t enough warning signs. Instead, leaders often ignore the warning signs or feel very uncomfortable at the thought of recognizing any mental “red flags.”
“There are usually significant warning signs, whether it’s mood swings, increased absenteeism, attendance, substance abuse, or sudden experiences of loss,” he says. “We can deal with these setbacks in life constructively or destructively.”
Alicia stresses the importance of leaders putting their workers as people first — if they don’t, they likely won’t notice the warning signs before it’s too late. This means establishing meaningful relationships with team members and being aware of temporary setbacks or personal hardships that an employee faces outside of work. This means knowing the resources available to employees and encouraging them to take time out for their mental health. Above all, this means not being afraid to have difficult conversations.
“People don’t feel comfortable using certain words or asking openly, ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself,'” Alicia says. “Our job is to create a certain level of comfort for managers to engage employees in these conversations.”
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Health Advocate provides resources to managers through the Assistant Manager Program, encouraging leaders to contact them if they find themselves struggling to help an employee deal with varying degrees of loss, whether due to a divorce or the death of a loved one.
“I’ve already trained in industrial and organizational psychology, and part of my job is to help managers, supervisors, and leaders in organizations gain the skills they need to be effective at work,” says Alicia. “It’s about becoming an empathetic listener and [creating] culture of care.
If an employee loses their life, whether due to illness, accident, or suicide, Alicia believes that employers should have a strategy in place for their workforce. This means that leaders must be prepared to discuss how employees are treated and direct them to the right resources. Employers may also want to reconsider expanding mental health care benefits, such as offering more free sessions through the EAP.
“Six months after this situation happened, employees look back and ask, ‘What did the company do for me?’” says Alicia. “What resources were available in my time of need?”
At the end of the day, awareness and resources may be what stand in the way of someone’s suicide — and employers can’t get away from that, Alicia stresses.
“It’s not an easy subject,” he says. “That’s why I always encourage organizations to prepare for a storm before the storm actually comes.”
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