This episode, originally recorded as a DEI community call, features a panel discussion with Kara Sweeney Guerriero, Emma Smith, Erin Black, and Bryan Gibb from from INCITE Consulting Solutions. Discover how to support positive mental health narratives at work, and engage in “anti-stigma” education & dialogue to normalize vulnerable discussions and create cultures of psychological safety.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- How to overcome the stigma of discussing mental health issues (11:00)
- Some of the most common mental health terms (14:30)
- The connection between emotional and physical health (18:00)
- How to gain a better understanding of mental health issues (21:00)
- How to pursue professional and non-professional support for mental health (25:00)
- Why a mental health diagnosis should not be a value judgement (31:00)
- Cultural considerations when it comes to mental health (36:00)
- Some of the most common struggles (38:00)
- The benefits to organizations of addressing mental health (42:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Hello, Will To Changers. Well, we are living in an unprecedented time of significant disruption that has caused many of us to swiftly reconsider how we work with one another. As people who value diversity, equity, and inclusion and want to champion those values in the workplace, we have a real opportunity now to proactively center unrepresented and underestimated voices in the next normal.
At JBC, you know that we are on a mission to awaken, to equip, and inspire as many people within as many organizations as possible with the knowledge that they are needed, that their voice has the power to make an impact, and that real change starts by educating themselves about what they don’t know. And that’s why we created our popular DEI Foundations Course to help participants by guiding them through a deeper understanding of what it means to be a truly inclusive leader and empowering them to speak about the value of DEI work in a way that meaningfully engages the people around them.
If you text DEI Foundations to 55444, we will register your interest and make sure to add you to our list to receive more information about our next cohort. So again, please text us at DEI Foundations at 55444 to register your interest.
BRIAN GIBB: We were training call center people for this insurance company, and one of the people raised… I’ll never forget this as long as I live. One of the people in the training raised their hand and said, “The other day, I got a call, and I get one of these about once a month where the person calls up and wants to know if their insurance covers suicide. They’re basically calling up to make an economic decision and may see suicide as a solution.”
And so the question the person had had was, “What do I do?” The HR person in the back of the room didn’t have an answer, but that HR person took that back to their meeting. And they developed a policy. They developed a procedure where they could hand that person off, where they could literally hit, not a panic button per se, but they could hit a button, get a supervisor, and they could get that person to someone else and then the call center person was trained to be supportive, to ask additional questions as appropriate.
DOUG FORESTA: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to the Will to Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown.
Hello and welcome back to the Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta, and I just want to give you a little context on this episode that you’re about to listen to. This was originally recorded as a DEI Community Call, and it features an interview with Kara Sweeney Guerrier, founder and president of Insight Consulting Services, as well as Emma Smith, director of operations for Insight, Erin Black, senior consultant strategy and business operations, as well as Brian Gibb, Mental Health First Aid consultant.
In the episode, Jennifer and the guests discuss how we can support positive mental health narratives at work and engage in anti-stigma education and dialogue to normalize vulnerable discussions and create cultures of psychological safety. Enjoy the episode.
JENNIFER BROWN: Without further ado, I’d like to introduce the amazing group that has come here today, and this group has prepared very, very carefully for this conversation. It is I think going to be a true education for all of us, and these are some of the questions that we’re going to be discussing and the Insight Group is going to be talking about recognizing mental health issues and struggles, behavioral health, Mental Health First Aid, which is a program that’s accessible to all organizations. So we’re going to be hearing about that if you don’t know about that.
We’re going to talk about the intersectional lens that we have to see mental health issues through, which I know is really important to this group and is language that we prioritize here on these calls. And what can employers do to support the… I don’t like the word normalization, but the usualization of the conversation about mental health. The fact that so many of us are touched either directly or indirectly by mental health issues. I know that that number has probably even gone up this year with the struggles that we’re all going through. And how do we destigmatize this topic? How do we usualize this topic to make sure that we bring it above the water line of the iceberg?
And that several years from now, we look back and we say there was a time when this was something we didn’t understand, that we didn’t talk about, that people covered in the workplace, that people put a lot of energy towards making sure that others didn’t know about. How can we bring this into the light because it’s important with all diversity dimensions to when we bring things into the light, then they can be addressed and resourced. Then they can be usualized, as I say, as part of our workforce and the lived reality of our workforce. So really important.
Great. So I will let Erin, I’m going to hand it over to Erin, and Erin’s going to introduce everybody that we’ve gotten together today. And please, send your questions into the chat. We’ll be keeping an eye out, and take it away, Erin.
ERIN BLACK: Thank you, Jennifer. And thank you so much for having us on this program. As Jennifer said, go ahead and put your questions in the chat. And while you do that, I’d also like to know of the audience if you think you would be able to recognize if a colleague or supervisor or employee was experiencing some kind of mental health problem. If you could give us a feel for how equipped you feel right now to answer that question.
So we’ll all give a little bit of an introduction, and then we’ll kick off the information sharing. So my name is Erin Black. I’m a retiree from 21.5 years in the Marine Corps, and I come to mental health through my sister who’s actually the CEO of this company, Kara. You’ll meet her a little bit later. Our brother has a serious mental illness. So it’s been a huge part of our family for my entire life. He’s my older brother. I also suffer from PTSD from military sexual trauma. So on a personal level, I deal with mental health. And as a member of the military, there are a lot of people that have experienced PTSD or TBI, which is traumatic brain injury from their service time.
So mental health is a very personal thing for me, and I’ve been able to take my experience with strategic planning and project management and wrap all of that in to be a member of Insight Consulting Solutions helping mental healthcare companies and organizations basically better provide for their clients.
So that is a little bit about me, and I will turn it over to Brian to introduce himself.
BRIAN GIBB: Hi there. Thank you, Erin. My name is Brian Gibb, and I am an independent Mental Health First Aid training consultant. I have a number of years in developing curricula on how to teach ways to recognize the symptoms of mental illness, how to provide comfort, deescalate people who are in crisis and refer them to professional help. I work for the National Council for Behavioral Health for a number of years, and was one of the co authors of Mental Health First Aid. The general course, as well as the course specifically for fire and EMS professionals, police, corrections, as well as workplace audiences.
So I’m thrilled to be here today to talk about the importance of early intervention and usualization. I love that term. I’m totally going to steal that.
ERIN BLACK: Great. Thank you, Brian. Emma.
EMMA SMITH: Hello. I am Emma Smith. My preferred pronouns are she/her/hers. I couldn’t figure out how to change my name, so I just want to put that out there. And I am in South Georgia. So for me, mental health wasn’t really an issue growing up. It just was never really acknowledged. Not among my family, not among my friends, not among my community. And I’m not really sure if it’s because of the stigma or because people were just unaware that it’s a real issue. But it has definitely impacted me in my life.
For example, when I was a senior in high school, I had a classmate pass away suddenly, and it didn’t occur to my school to bring in grief counselors for the students. I’ve had several family members who have died by suicide, swept under the rug, never talked about. Both of my dad and my sister has struggled with substance use issues for a lot of their lives, again, never talked about. When I was in an adult visiting my mom one day, I found a bottle of Prozac in her medicine cabinet, and to be honest, it never occurred to me to ask her how she was doing because I wasn’t surrounded by that. To this day, she has no idea that I found that bottle of Prozac.
And this also extended into my work life as well. I used to work for an organization that its very mission was public health, and I had a coworker who for years tried to advocate doing more work around mental health in the workplace. Leadership didn’t listen, none of the coworkers were behind her, and this was, again, a public health organization.
So I think the downside for me growing up in that kind of environment was when I ended up struggling with my own depression later on in life, to be honest, again, it never occurred to me that I could even seek help. It just never crossed my mind. It didn’t cross my friends’ minds either. Their solution was, “Oh, let’s just take her dancing at the club, and she can dance her blues away.” Spoiler alert, that did not work.
So now I’m a mother, and I have a middle schooler who just started middle school this year. And she’s struggling with anxiety and a little bit of depression as well. So as a mother, it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that this head in the sand attitude just isn’t going to work anymore. But the interesting thing that I have found with my daughter and a lot of her friends is that… Her friends also have a lot of mental health issues with anxiety and depression. Given the world today, that’s really understandable, but they’re talking about it. They are very open and sharing their struggles and anxieties. If something is triggering to them, they’ll say, “You know what, this is triggering my anxiety. I need to step away.” This is as usual for them, which I find really striking.
And not too long ago I had an eight year old year unprompted talk to me about her anger management issues and the meds that she was taking. And what struck me was that she was very matter of fact about it. She wasn’t embarrassed. She wasn’t ashamed. She was just like, “These are my issues.” It struck me that as adults, we have a lot to learn from these kids who probably they were forced into usualizing the mental health issues because of the world we live in. But as adults, we can learn from that because there’s still a lot of stigma and a lot of fear of being open and sharing with somebody your mental health issues that’s not so prevalent, at least with the children that I see.
So that’s hopeful, and I’m hopeful that we can begin to usualize this and become more open to talking about these issues because I can tell you when you ignore it and deny it, it just causes trouble. So I didn’t mean to talk on and on about it. But that’s kind of where I’m coming from.
ERIN BLACK: Now, Emma, you make a lot of good points. I think the audience probably needs to hear that. So Kara, can you introduce yourself now please? Did we lose Kara?
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: No, I was muted. Sorry. Rookie error. So, Emma, I echo the comments as it relates, so thank you for sharing your personal story. I’ve spent my career in and around mental health, behavioral healthcare. As Erin mentioned earlier, she’s my sister. So her same personal story related to our brother, and a lot of the reason that I ended up in the industry that I did was trying to figure out what was going on with my family and how I could help. And unfortunately, it can be very challenging to get your person the help that they need in the time that they need it.
So really when I started the consulting business, our focus is we’re not exclusively working with behavioral healthcare organizations because I think we are learning that mental issues are… Well, we’re not learning, but there are broader issues across all of corporate America, across all workplaces. And we have a network of experts and contacts that we’ve all built over 20-something years each and want to be able to bring those folks. So you don’t have to recreate the wheel when you’re trying to solve a problem or find the right information or the right person.
So my passion is really about people and about trying to help promote and encourage and develop healthy organizations and happy employees, and my theory is that if we can do that, at the end of it, that clients or patients or consumers or whatever you want to talk about, the end user will be able to get better services and get better services faster. So that’s really why we’re here.
ERIN BLACK: Great. Thank you, Kara. You talk about the services and you talk about behavioral health, could you tell us a little bit about the variety of behavioral health conditions from depression, to anxiety, to serious mental illness, SUD, OUD, and spell out some of those terms mean because they’re probably not familiar. And then talk a little bit about the intersection of physical health and mental health and race and sexuality, and how all of those things intersect, particularly as it addresses mental health.
And yes, thank you for the bring the baby to work day. [crosstalk 00:14:58] in the middle of the meeting. So y’all have to excuse, say hi to the cute little baby. So I might step off for a moment to put him down, but I’ll be here.
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: So one of the things I love about the pandemic, life and work in the time of pandemic is I think we’ve all become a bit kinder when it comes to some of the disruptions in life, especially everybody who’s working from home and teaching kids. So Erin, we’re happy if the dog shows up too.
So I’ve spent so much time in and around this industry. I have to remind myself that not everybody’s so familiar with the terminology or how we talk about things. When we talk about behavioral healthcare, to be honest, it’s in insider industry term to combine talking about both mental health and substance use disorder related issues. Substance use disorder encompasses the realm of alcohol and other drugs and prescription drugs and opioids, everything. It kind of gets lumped into these really large buckets, and then we toss it all into this thing called behavioral health. I think laypeople or people who haven’t spent time in this side of the industry often think of kids in behavioral issues or kids who act out, and that falls in the bucket too. But it really is, it’s the default for talking about mental health and substance use disorders.
I often just cut it down to mental health, but I recognize that that does a disservice to the substance use side of things.
I think it’s interesting because the “illnesses”, we often think of the really serious ones around bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and there are people who have lifelong struggles, like our brother. But when we’re also talking about these issues, there’s really a continuum and a difference in severity. I, myself, I spent part of my day yesterday talking to some of my clients and telling them that I’ve realized… I’m coming out of it now, but I’ve spent a large part of the last two to three months really depressed, and it kind of came… Thankfully I had a doctor’s appointment last Friday, but last Thursday I napped all day and I faked my way through a couple of Zoom meetings. It was just really bad. I was able to talk to my doctor pretty quickly, changed some things up. And it’s not something that I deal with seriously every day, but it’s there and it comes back. It is what it is. Then there are mental health related issues that show up once.
I was on the phone last night with a girlfriend, and we hadn’t talked in a while. And she brought up the fact that she had had some real psychosis issues when she was in post partum depression when she was pregnant. I don’t think that my family and my connections are unique in that we all have issues that we’re struggling with. My network might be a little more in open in sharing them just because I’ve been doing this for so long, but it really is kind of the breath and scope of challenges that everyone faces at some point and time in their lives.
I think we also at least in healthcare like to try to differentiate between physical health and mental health, and there’s no dividing line. We are people, so we have emotional health and spiritual health and sexual health. It’s all connected. So I’m so thrilled that Erin and Jennifer would be able to make this connection to the DEI community because there are, and Brian’s going to share some numbers in a little bit, but there are factors that can exacerbate symptoms. In addition to all of your daily life issues, you’re dealing with issues around race and environment. It can be really complicated. But the good news is that there are a lot of services, a lot of resources. I think in today’s day and age, particularly in the time of COVID, the number of articles I’ve seen written up about increase risk of mental health and addiction related issues, I think it’s a great time to be having this conversation. So we’re really thrilled to be a part of it.
ERIN BLACK: Great. Kara, you talk about the wide variety of mental health problems. Emma, can you tell us how many people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime or maybe know someone who’s going to experience a mental health problem?
EMMA SMITH: Yeah. Sure. So according to NAMI, which is the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one in five adults will experience a mental health issue in any given year. And that translates to about 44 million people. That’s a lot of people. Among children between the ages of six and 17, that prevalence is one in six. And overall, about half of all Americans will experience a mental health issue at some point during their lifetime. So it’s a lot of people. And when you break it down and look into different subgroups, you’ll find that the prevalence rates are much higher for certain groups versus others. For example, if you’re looking by race ethnicity, people who identify as being multiracial actually have the highest prevalence rate for mental illness, followed by Native American, Alaskan Natives, and then Black African Americans. When you look at people who identify as being LGBTQ, that prevalence rate is 37%.
So the short answer, Erin, is that it’s a lot of people. And then you’re also asking about how many people will know somebody? I would argue that it’s going to be nearly everybody given the high numbers. If we don’t know somebody who’s struggling, chances are that you will know somebody who is struggling just because it is so prevalent. And that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s really important that we all have a baseline understanding of what mental health is and how to recognize when someone is going through a mental health crisis and how to help somebody. And there are a lot of programs out there, as Kara eluded to, and I’m going to turn it over to Brian in a sec to talk about one of these programs, which is Mental Health First Aid.
He’s our Mental Health First Aid guru. He’s been involved with us for a very long time, and I think it’s a really good program to help get that baseline understanding of what mental health is. So I’m going to go ahead and ask Brian to talk a little bit more about Mental Health First Aid, what that is, how it’s beneficial, all that good stuff.
BRIAN GIBB: Thank you, Emma. And thanks for the hard statistics because they really show us all that this is an important issue, and I know we all believe that. But it’s useful to look at those numbers. Just to build on what Emma said, one in five Americans adults will experience a diagnosable mental health problem in any given year. And when you add in substance use disorder, it’s one in four. And again, it’s so hard to differentiate behavioral health and substance use because they so often co-occur. So the numbers are huge.
One of the things that we’re trying to do here today and what Mental Health First Aid tries to do is to show that mental health problems, substance use disorders are common. They can be disabling. They can be deadly. But you know what, people can and do recover. The sooner that people get help for a mental health problem, the more likely they are to have a better long term outcome. That makes sense when we think about physical illness. It’s true with diabetes. It’s true with heart disease. It’s true with cancer. And it’s true with mental illness, and I think it’s useful for us to think about mental illness and substance use disorders in a kind of physical illness, through the same kind of lens that we look at physical illness, which is that they’re real. They are illnesses. And they can be treated.
The goal really of Mental Health First Aid is anti-stigma teaching. Much like we talk about today about the power of anti-racism, we should think about anti-stigma teaching as it relates to mental illness, and Mental Health First Aid endeavors to do just that. It doesn’t try to teach people how to diagnose or treat mental illness anymore than First Aid teaches you how to treat a third degree burn or do cardiac massage. It doesn’t teach you how to do that. It teaches you how to recognize that something’s up, that someone maybe struggling with something, how to approach that person in an appropriate, a safe and appropriate way.
And HR professionals out there, I know that you get nervous when we’re talking about HIPAA violations and things like that, and Mental Health First Aid is very sensitive to how we can approach people when we maybe supervising safely and appropriately. And then listen to that person nonjudgmentally, provide comfort to that person, and then deescalate that person if they are in crisis, whether they are escalated in some way because they’re experiences psychosis or if they’re at risk for suicide. And then how to hand that person off, to do a warm hand off to professional help. That professional help could be the EAP at your organization or it could be the emergency room or in very extreme circumstances, a crisis team or 911.
So Mental Health First Aid brings us along that continuum to teach you how to recognize what depression might look like, what anxiety might look like. What are some of the signs of substance use disorders? How to have a conversation with someone about their drinking. I don’t know if anyone on this call has ever had that conversation with someone about their drinking or about their using. That’s a tough one. And in Mental Health First Aid, we roleplay that. We walk through that. And the goal really is to develop people who have heightened noticing skills and know where to go.
One of the things we’re going to share with you at the end of this call are some resources and where you can go to connect people with supports, could be professional help. It could be other nonprofessional treatment, supports. I encourage you all to explore Mental Health First Aid and its various flavors. There’s lots of different curricula designed for different groups. Everything from police officers or correction staff individuals or those working with tribal communities. I’ve done a ton of work with tribal communities around the country to make sure that the curricula is relevant for that group. Relevant for Spanish speakers of various parts of the country. We all know that just because someone speaks Spanish doesn’t mean they’re culturally identical. So Mental Health First Aid was very conscious about involving [foreign language 00:26:11] from New York, Cuban Americans from South Florida, people from El Salvador, people from Mexico, et cetera so that the course is culturally relevant for them. And that’s just one example of how the course has been designed to be inclusive.
So I’m really hoping that we’ll get to our questions here in a minute, but that’s enough about me, about Mental Health First Aid.
ERIN BLACK: Okay. Thanks, Brian. So Kara, now that we know a little more about Mental Health First Aid and how it can be applied in the workplace, what are some examples or resources that companies can use to integrate mental healthcare into their work policies?
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: Sure. I love how active the chat is. I’m trying not to be distracted by all the great [inaudible 00:26:52] questions. I’m like, “Oh, squirrel.” I think there are a lot. Somebody’s mentioned already in the chat, EAP programs, employee assistance programs that particularly larger employers mostly have. Brian has, I’ve been on other calls with him before where he said that he’s been in front of rooms and he’ll ask how many people know about or have contacted your EAP program, and like two people put up their hands. And how many people know about where to get information about your 401K, and everybody in the room raises their hand. The information presented in the same place at the same time when you hire, but it gets back to this it’s not something that we talk about a whole lot. So I think having access to an EA program is great. But I agree with Kelly that they aren’t enough.
An organization can put together specific policies in your handbooks, which is some people really like policies. I think they’re very important, and they do help to set the standard for behavior and culture. But really when it comes down to it, I think the most impactful and effective way that employers can address these issues are by opening up lines of communication, making sure that in supervisor trainings and director trainings and VP trainings, that these issues are discussed, and that the resources that are available are available. That people know where to find them. But also, about how to talk to your people. Not all managers are naturally great managers and know how to have a difficult conversation. So you have to create a forum, an environment and training in order to help them be able to… Or who do they go to when they don’t know what to say?
So often performance related issues are blamed on performance. When as all of us have already discussed and so many of you in the chat said, people’s lives are really complicated, and things are happening that have an impact in the workplace. So performance might not be I’m a bad employee. But it might be my husband’s an alcoholic, and I can’t live like this anymore. So I think providing venues and even just in general, communication’s programs that larger employers or any employers might be putting together. Putting together wellness programs, having yoga in the workforce. There’s so many things that even just from a message perspective you’re telling your employees it’s okay to have these issues and where to go to get help.
I think also one thing that’s probably not something that folks naturally think about as it relates to what can employers do, but make connections in the community. If you have trainings, make a connection with your community mental health center. Have somebody come in, make sure that people know that there are outside resources if they don’t want to access the internal resources. So that’s just a list.
One of the other questions that somebody asked was around trauma informed care. This conversation could probably go on for much longer than an hour, but one of the things that we wanted to make sure that we were doing was providing a summary. And then if we can be helpful in any way, shape, or form to just help put any of you in touch with somebody or answer a question, we’ll be more than available to anyone after this call. So I’m pop in every once in a while just a summary contact around national resources, local resources, and I’m including Erin’s contact information because she’s really been the lead on this. And there are trauma informed care programs. There’s an awful lot that’s trying to be accomplished in healthcare. I’m not sure about trauma informed care in the workplace, but it is something we can look at and followup with the group on.
ERIN BLACK: Thank you. One thing you mentioned just about the employer piece, and does it cost any money? And it does revolve around communication, but [Neviva 00:30:44] had said something about stigma being largely due to the myths that people have about mental health. And I think that’s true. But ironically when half the population either has a mental health problem or knows someone with a mental health problem, that’s almost ridiculous. It’s like cancer. You know people that have cancer. Just about everybody knows someone that has cancer, and they don’t attribute that to that person. They assign no value. It’s not a value-based illness. It’s just something they have. Mental illness is something that you have, and you can get better. Some people will get better; some people won’t.
But I think also a really good way to help even in the workplace that everyone can do is just talk about it. Just say, “Yeah, I’m having a really bad day. I don’t know if it’s depression. I don’t know.” But just be able to talk a little bit more about it. If you have a cold, you don’t have any problem telling people you have a cold. And I realize it’s much harder and it’s much more personal, but I think the more we talk about it, the less stigmatizing it is on a day-to-day basis.
Okay. So talking about the stigma associated with mental health, for Brian, how can you take something like Mental Health First Aid and update policies? How can that contribute to destigmatization, or are there other things that can be done to contribute from an organizational perspective to destigmatization?
BRIAN GIBB: Thanks for the question, Erin. There’s so many things from a policy standpoint and an awareness standpoint. A couple of years ago, I worked with a large insurance company that was very interested in training its employees in Mental Health First Aid. They had had a cluster, a suicide cluster in their company, and that had rippled out throughout the organization. As many of you, of course, I’m sure are aware, we’ve all been part of that. We’ve all been impacted by individuals who died by suicide. So this had affected this company. So they were interested in bringing Mental Health First Aid in, and we trained various different groups of the company in Mental Health First Aid, how to recognize early and do early intervention. And the more training we did, the more was revealed that the company needed to approach from a policy standpoint.
Now we weren’t formally doing a needs analysis. We were training the rank and file as well as supervisors and leadership, and those things were becoming obvious to HR organically. Example, we were training call center people for this insurance company, and one of the people raised… I’ll never forget this as long as I live. One of the people in the training raised their hand and said, “The other day, I got a call, and I get one of these about once a month where the person calls up and wants to know if their insurance covers suicide. They’re basically calling up to make an economic decision and may see suicide as a solution.”
And so the question the person had had was, “What do I do?” The HR person in the back of the room didn’t have an answer, but that HR person took that back to their meeting. And they developed a policy. They developed a procedure where they could hand that person off, where they could literally hit, not a panic button per se, but they could hit a button, get a supervisor, and they could get that person to someone else and then the call center person was trained to be supportive, to ask additional questions as appropriate in a way.
So in many ways, even anyone in an organization from janitorial, maintenance, call center, all the way up to the CEO can have this awareness and can be an agent of early intervention. And those policies can then organically come from that awareness. The other way around is to develop the policies from above. I think it’s a probably a simultaneous process that’s best. So you train basically the rank and file and leadership, and then they meet in the middle. Leadership becomes sensitive and open and teachable, and then the rank and file basically tell you what’s happening on the day to day.
ERIN BLACK: So you follow that procedure. It seems like that’s actually another really good way to bring in specific mental health concerns for communities of color, LGBTQ+, and to bring it in as one of the other questions had been brought up about how to bring this into the DEI world and tie those things together and really address some specific cohorts that experience different stressors.
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: One of the great things about Mental Health First Aid too is that it has so many different versions of the program. There is a Mental Health First Aid for folks who work with youth. But Mental Health First Aid also has a number of modules for if you’re training the police force or if you’re training church groups, religious groups. Brian, you should jump in here because you know this stuff so much better than I do.
BRIAN GIBB: Thank you. And there is not a flavor of Mental Health First Aid for every subpopulation, but it is designed in a way so that the instructor can oftentimes imbue their own cultural awareness or their own membership in the population that they’re training. Example, I talked about Native American populations. I’ve done a ton of work historically in New Mexico and in the Southwest with various Native American communities. And what those communities have done very thoughtfully is train instructors from the various tribal groups, and then those instructors go forth and teach the class in a way that’s culturally appropriate with some help from some materials that we developed through IHS. And that’s much more appropriate.
I would encourage anyone on this call that’s interested in exploring Mental Health First Aid to get a sense of it, but if it’s looking like something you want to scale up, it’s important to have individuals in your organization that represent your respective populations so that instructors can relate and have moral authority with the populations that they’re working with.
One quick example, we did a ton of work with the Born This Way Foundation. Lady Gaga’s foundation, the Born This Foundation, which is focused a lot on LGBTQ+ inclusion and anti-bullying efforts with young people. So what they did is they focused very specifically on making sure that the curriculum not only reflected the needs of that population but also that the instructor core represented those that they were serving. So the beauty of Mental Health First Aid is it can be scaled up in a way so that the faces on the screen, the people in the room are of that population.
ERIN BLACK: Sure. That’s great.
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: We want to get to a place where we can really answer some more of the questions, but Erin, you started this off talking about your experience in the military. And the military’s done an amazing, a lot of really forward thinking things in mental health that it would be great if you could share a little bit with us, but we also really wanted to bring the military up because there are so many people who have served who are in the workforce. So again, it’s not something that might be talked about a whole lot, but there are some things that people carry around that can be real struggles.
ERIN BLACK: No, you’re absolutely right. I’ve been thinking about that question since we talked about this last week. And why is it important? So as you mentioned, all of us who are in the military, we go back to the workforce. If we don’t go to the workforce, if we don’t retire and go onto another workforce, we go home to families. And one thing you see a lot of is military members that have some sort of mental health problem, whether it’s depression or anxiety. There’s a lot of PTSD out there. Mostly the military people you’re dealing with, you’re very Type A, go get them, nothing’s wrong. I’m bulletproof. But the fact is we’re not bulletproof, and all of us who go back into the workforce, we go work for someone.
And really even just to have someone say, “Yeah, I understand that must have been really hard,” or a lot of people I don’t think need professional intervention. They just need understanding of their management, and that was one of the questions was how do you help your organization if your management wants to help but your HR structure doesn’t support that? I think that’s a really important question, and I think that’s something you probably need to discuss within the management team.
But the military has done a great job of recognizing mental health from the top down and the bottom up, like Brian mentioned. So not only is it more acceptable among the leadership and is more visible in the leadership, but as Brian mentioned, using that bottom up approach because we all know peer pressure is huge. And you probably care more about what your peers think than what your boss thinks in a lot of cases because you can still do a good job most of the time. You can still get your work done, but it’s your peers. You don’t want to seem weak to your peers.
So I think if people have a better understanding, and I think a lot of that I think that is something that military people bring back with them. And also the families. We need to be aware of our families and how a mental health problem can affect families. If that becomes a drinking issue or a drug issues, you saw that a lot with Vietnam vets. They came back, they had no one to talk to. People were hateful to them. And now Vietnam vets are on the street with drug problems, homeless. So we don’t want that. We want people to be productive members of society. And so we want to be able to address these mental health concerns.
And it’s one of the reasons I’m now working with Insight, not just because Kara’s my sister. But because I believe it’s important. I think whole healthcare’s important, and one of the other participants mentioned that, I think it was Stephanie. Mental healthcare and physical healthcare should be considered one thing. It should be healthcare. It’s one thing. You can’t talk about the top up and the bottom down as two separate components. I think if you can get HR to understand that, maybe HR needs to have someone come in and really explain to them about mental health. Maybe the management needs to bring in a Mental Health First Aid representative or the local community… I’m sure most of the communities you are all in probably have a local community behavioral healthcare center or a certified community behavioral healthcare center.
Being creative and thinking outside of the box about how to get people in to talk about mental health, I think that’s probably a good way to start from a management perspective. Getting everyone else onboard. Just take the initiative to do that kind of thing.
So Kara, thank you for that question.
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: You’re welcome.
ERIN BLACK: All right. So I agree, I think we should move into some of the questions now from the chat. Let’s see.
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: One of the questions I noticed, there was a question about how do you do nonverbal communication safely? And I had to kind of chuckle because one of the topics that’s literally what you talk about in Mental Health First Aid is how do you go about having the conversation. This question also asks whether it’s verbally or in written form. Kind of in general, the concept of how do you reach out to someone who might be struggling. And there are other questions here about what can HR do and what’s the role. And we know in HR there’s often… The question says that HR can sometimes be laissez-faire. I think a lot of times that attitude might exist because people just don’t know what to do, even HR professionals. Unless you have some kind of training or resources or… So much comes from leadership. So if you have leadership who’s really totally pro-supporting the mental health of the workforce, then you’re going to have an organization that’s so much more supportive.
But I think a lot of that laissez-faire or people just don’t know what to say or how to start a conversation or how to respond when someone comes forward and is trying to be open about their issues because to be honest, a lot of times it takes the person who’s struggling some time to realize what’s been going on. So there’s a delay in the workforce in performance, and people have probably been noticing that. So it’s a really uncomfortable conversation in addition to being a really intimate conversation about what’s going on in your life and not knowing what to do. Because if we knew what to do, we’d do it.
BRIAN GIBB: Yeah. I would argue being laissez-faire is to perpetuate discrimination. I mean, to do nothing does nothing but empower the status quo, which is… I mean, we use the word stigma as it relates to mental illness, but in the essence, what we’re talking about is discrimination against individuals who experience mental illness. So one of the core tenants of Mental Health First Aid is active, affirmative destigmatization, anti-stigma approach is to… We use the term usualize, but also to show that Mental Health First Aid is typical.
An organization that ignores this at their peril. Their most valuable resources are people, and how expensive is a disability claim? I mean, the statistics show that one of the largest categories of disability is depression, untreated depression. We all know and we all believe or we wouldn’t be here today that depression is real and it can be treated, and people can and do recover and be productive that experience depression. So absolutely we need to focus on that stuff.
Mental Health First Aid does that. It’s in your face in that sense. It focuses on mental illness. It talks about typical behaviors. It talks about the difference between typical behaviors and what might be pathology. But in the end, it doesn’t matter because Mental Health First Aid is not training clinicians. We’re not training people how to diagnose or treat mental illness. We’re training people to recognize observable behavior and then offer help, and that’s appropriate in an HR, supervisory relationship. That’s appropriate.
ERIN BLACK: Right, Brian. So one of the questions was talk about self disclosure use in HR. When they ask if you suffer from depression or from a handicap and list depression as an option, I would say that if you better inform HR, they might be able to adjust things like that because that shouldn’t even be in the same category.
BRIAN GIBB: Well, it’s forcing disclosure. It’s forcing disclosure. I also notice something in the chat too where someone shared that [crosstalk 00:46:18]-
ERIN BLACK: … better than I did.
BRIAN GIBB: Well, that leadership also did an analysis of healthcare utilization and actually prescriptions about what prescriptions were being filed through their healthcare program, and then approach the staff with it and had some kind of, excuse me, but half-assed approach by saying, “Well, we hope that y’all can handle this,” or something like that. Which is more damaging than the laissez-faire approach. And this is all the more reason why we would counsel an organization to not go into this and try to wing it. It’s too sensitive. It’s too important. To hire professionals, whether it’s Insight or someone else. I mean, I’m more focused on the end goal of destigmatization and getting people the help that they need than driving revenue. Sorry. Because I really think I’m mission focused on this, so I really think it’s so important for organizations to take this seriously.
ERIN BLACK: So Kara, that leads me to another good question here from Linda. She asked, “In light of whole healthcare, would it be better to include mental health awareness and training in all ERGs or offer a specific ERG group to address this?”
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: I will acknowledge my lack of knowledge. I’m not sure what an ERG group is. Can anyone spell that out for me?
JENNIFER BROWN: I can jump in here, Kara. Let me take myself on video. Yeah, I mean, I would love to hear from the group and chat how many of you have ERGs that are actually addressing mental health? That’s number one, and if you feel comfortable sharing your company name, that would be really great. You don’t have to, but I would love to hear. Employee resource groups are the LatinX Group, the Women’s Group, the LGBTQ+ Network, the Black Network. There are veteran’s networks. So as we talk about mental health as a thread that I think a horizontal thread that runs through these, what are typically thought of as vertical identity silos, the way ERGS are set up is by identity. That model goes back several decades actually. So the question becomes in what we’re learning is there are these horizontal sort of shared experiences have just as much, if not more of an impact on us as our sort of vertical identities. And we are many things.
So this is one of the ways I explain intersectionality is sort of the vertical identities that we have, that we’re attending to, but then the horizontal universal threads that run through. Parenting is another thing that runs all the way through. That we had to address those as well, and the best programming we can create is intersectional, meaning that’s encompassing all of these. That it brings voices in that are many things so that we can understand this is not just that community’s problem or it’s not just those people. It’s all of us. It creates a sort of this either is happening or will happen to us directly at some point. And it’s something that we can be allies around. In the meantime, we can be doing much more. So yeah.
So I would love to hear… Oh, and maybe mental health is housed in the abilities. The abilities group. So that’s the people with disabilities or abilities groups. That’s interesting. Thanks, Beth, for sharing that. There’s a wellness group.
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: One of the things too, the question around… I think the best concept, the best way to start having these conversations or to build some of these conversations around your intersectionality is going with the concept of whole health. It’s not physical health and mental health. It’s spiritual health. It’s emotional health. I don’t know if your employers want to start talking about sexual health, but it’s there. Providing forums and conversations or specialty groups that allow people to have a community, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges in today’s day and age. Somebody had asked a question earlier about young people going back to school in today’s COVID day and age, that’s one of the hugest struggles is that how are these kids going to meet each other, and how are they going to create those relationships and community? And I think that’s a lot about a whole lot more than just kids in school.
With everything being so virtual and so online, communities are necessary and sometimes really challenging to find, particularly when you’re struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder related issue. So however a company can find that intersectionality, the whole health brand allows you to have a lot of different conversations. And it allows people to participate without feeling like they’re identifying in some way if they’re not comfortable doing that yet.
ERIN BLACK: Yeah, that’s a good point. I’d like to bring this back too real quick, Kara, you just talked about how we talk about that in the family and homeschooling. So Emma, how would you tie this back into the family, and what you’ve learned now over the years? How would you approach your family now or how would you encourage others to approach their families? Today we start this conversation at the most basic level, and that’s your family.
EMMA SMITH: I have learned the hard way that it’s really important to meet people where they are because if you try to go at it and they’re at a place where they’re just not ready to talk about it, they shut down, get defensive, and then you end up with a lot of fighting. That’s from personal experience. So that’s number one, just meet them where they are. And then with my daughter in particular because I think I mentioned before that she struggles a lot with anxiety and depression, I have learned to read her cues better. So it helped me become more attuned to how she’s feeling, and when she lashes out at me, I’m better able to understand why it is that she’s lashing out at me versus just picking a fight with her.
So yeah, I would just say that’s the most important thing. Meet people where they are, try to have a little bit more empathy with where they’re coming from, and understanding that there’s a lot of things going on internally that they’re not sharing with you. That could definitely affect the way that they behave, and this goes with the workplace as well. I have worked with colleagues who on the outside appeared to be very abrasive or hard to work with or just really difficult, and it turned out that they were going through some struggle that they just weren’t sharing. So that’s a lesson that could be applied to families, to the workplace, pretty much anyway.
ERIN BLACK: Yeah. Thank you, Emma. One of the other questions was from Kelly, “If you don’t trust your organization, how likely are you going to be to trust the anonymity of mental health offerings?” And I think that’s a valid question. I think working on trust within an organization is really important. And that maybe something that the organization is willing to work on and build, and it may not. I think if they’re not, I think that’s a real challenge. Maybe reach out to someone and ask more specifically, how would you work within this construct where you don’t trust your organization? Because that really is very, very difficult. I recognize there’s a lot of people that are probably in that place.
JENNIFER BROWN: Really appreciate the fact that you’re holding space in your organizations and in yourself for these kinds of important topics, and we are literally building a new plane as we’re flying it. Better, healthier organizations that acknowledge everything that’s going on and don’t sweep things under the rug because we know it’s so important. So I appreciate each of you being on the vanguard of that and being brave every single day in the ways that you are. Appreciate you.
KARA SWEENEY GUERRIER: Thank you.
ERIN BLACK: Jennifer, thank you.
EMMA SMITH: Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Have a wonderful week.
Hi. This is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
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