By Ola Snow, Chief Human Resources Officer
May is Mental Health Month – a time to raise awareness of mental health issues and to reduce stigma about them. The COVID-19 pandemic has given new urgency to these goals.
The pandemic triggered increased mental health issues, stemming from grief, isolation, financial insecurities and other challenges. In the U.S. alone, the pandemic has tripled or quadrupled the number of people struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Mental health issues can impact employees in many different ways, from reducing their ability to complete tasks and their cognitive performance to causing communications problems with peers and managers.
Even before the pandemic, we began ramping up mental health support for employees. We’re now focused on the issue as never before. Cardinal Health pays significant attention to our employees’ mental well-being, just as we do their physical health. It’s the smart thing to do, but it’s the right thing, too.
We know this has been an incredibly difficult year for all our employees: whether they’ve continued to work on the frontlines, ensuring that our customers get the products they need to care for patients; or working from home, where “work-life balance” has all but disappeared. Since the onset of the pandemic, many employees have reported working longer hours. Many are juggling their work with additional responsibilities of childcare, home schooling and/or eldercare, and many feel isolated and simply long for the normalcy of social interaction.
Here’s what we’re doing to help.
Creating balance: We’re encouraging employees to focus on the job to be done, rather than the time of day the work gets done, to create some balance and mitigate burnout. Working parents, for example, may need time during the traditional workday to help students with virtual learning. We instituted “Midweek Moment,” an internal-meeting-free window every Wednesday that employees can use however they want, from catching up on emails to taking a long walk. Leaders also limit how much they engage with their teams via email late in the evenings and during weekends.
Enhancing support: Early in the pandemic, we increased the number of one-on-one counseling sessions available to employees and their household members through our global Employee Assistance Program (EAP). We released a wellness and self-care learning series focused on COVID-19 and mental health that hundreds of employees around the globe have used. And we offer free access to Headspace, a meditation and relaxation app, so employees can access mental health tools wherever they are, right from their smartphones.
Addressing stigma: Stigma is often the reason people avoid or delay seeking mental health treatment, even though treatment typically alleviates symptoms. Stigma directly affects individuals with mental illness, but it also hurts the friends and family members who help support them.
To eradicate stigma, we launched Mind Matters to provide more mental health resources to employees and foster an open and supportive mental health culture throughout the company. We’ve hosted multiple virtual programs that connect employees with mental health professionals. And because stigma is a significant barrier to care among certain racial and ethnic communities, we now offer Mind Matters programming with customized educational messages specific to our diverse Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
Sharing stories with others can not only help reduce stigma, but also increase compassion for those with mental health issues, so we’re hosting a variety of internal storytelling sessions, connecting employees willing to share their own mental health experiences with audiences throughout the company.
Increasing training: We’re training our leaders in mental health awareness and response, so they have the skills to address mental health issues in the workplace. More recently, we’ve begun offering a program to employees in the U.S. called Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). The MHFA certification helps people identify and support anyone who might be experiencing an issue (like a panic attack, traumatic event or withdrawal from substance misuse), and helps get them connected to care, and ultimately, to a better place.
Experts anticipate there will be pandemic-related mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, even after the virus itself is more controlled, notes the BBC. One of the most important things we can all do, this Mental Health Month and beyond, is to keep talking about mental well-being, and help those who need it get connected to support and care.
Ola Snow is Chief Human Resources Officer at Cardinal Health. She has a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion and serves as co-executive sponsor for the D&I Council and an advisor to the Black and African American Racial Equity Cabinet, internal groups charged with challenging the status quo and helping to advance our DEI work. Snow also serves on the board of the Cardinal Health Foundation, Baxter Credit Union and Flying Horse Farms and is a commissioner on the Columbus Women’s Commission. She is an active member of The Ohio State University’s Women and Philanthropy and Go Red for Women Circle of Red.