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Mental Health and the Workplace - Understanding Plus Action

May is a much anticipated and welcomed month for New Englanders. At last, the discolored piles of snow have melted, and shovels and winter jackets are retired. April’s rain has given way to a colorful blooming ecosystem. Some people anticipate the end of homework battles, time spent outdoors socializing (while physically distanced), and warm weather activities they treasure. May, however, is not experienced in these ways by everyone. In fact, for many it can feel gloomy like an endless rainy January afternoon, or full of panic as when a tornado strikes. Perhaps you know one or two people who are experiencing life in these ways.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and an opportunity to raise consciousness and advance the dialogue around mental health impacts, what to say to someone who is struggling, and how to promote help-seeking behavior. Let us consider how employers can support employees in distress by being observant, connecting with empathy, and guiding them to professional support and resources.

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Should Employees “Check Their Baggage at the Door?”

World Mental Health Day 2020 is October 10, and many workplaces are re-thinking the old notion of “checking baggage at the door.” This practice came from a belief that work was work, home was home, and the only thing separating them was the commute. It was also centered on the belief that mental health issues were shameful and should be hidden from view at the workplace. This fear relates to the stigma associated with mental illness and the belief that vulnerabilities may impact career mobility.

Now enter the land of COVID-19 and workplaces are re-thinking this position. The line between work and home has been turned upside down by the pandemic, making it challenging on a number of fronts. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll1, more than half of Americans report that the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. While at least one in five employees typically suffers from a behavioral health condition, many more now feel down or anxious about the pandemic. With so many people suffering in this way, does it make sense to just ignore it? What are the benefits and risks of acknowledging mental health issues and embracing them?

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