Reading Beyond the Headlines: Prioritizing Employee Mental Health

Mark Debus, MSW, LCSW
Clinical Manager, Behavioral Health, Sedgwick
background image

Recent data shows nearly one fifth of Americans are navigating a mental health condition. While media reports often cite statistics like this to highlight the severity of the mental health crisis in America, the practical realities of addressing mental wellness in the workplace are much more nuanced.

Beyond the headlines, there is neither a quick fix nor a one-size-fits-all approach to employee mental wellness. Leaders need to take an individualized approach to mental wellness solutions, especially for employees in public service roles who more frequently experience trauma in the workplace.

Follow these best practices to approach employee mental wellness with informed advocacy, urgency and empathy.

Early intervention with an individualized approach

When it comes to workplace trauma reactions and PTSD cases, early intervention leads to better outcomes. Whether your goals include reducing or preventing symptoms, lost time or containing medical costs, everybody can benefit from early intervention tailored to the individual’s need in the moment.

Leaders, listen to your employees and be proactive in getting them support as soon as possible. Although first responders, transit workers, healthcare workers and retail workers are more impacted by trauma than others, trauma can impact any work group. Also, not everyone reacts to trauma the same way, so know how to recognize different trauma reactions including “hidden” symptoms like burnout, disability, absenteeism and interpersonal conflicts in the workplace.

Write, share and discuss your workplace policies for traumatic events and know who else to call after 911 if a traumatic event does occur in the workplace. Early intervention happens much more seamlessly when these secondary calls are made to resources like trauma response counselors, workers’ compensation claims administrators, occupational health specialists and employees’ emergency contacts.

Create a workplace culture of mental wellness

It is the responsibility of leaders to be proactive about preventing burnout, monitoring the mental wellness needs of their team and promoting mental wellness teamwide. Managers can take collaborative steps like proactive check-ins about stress and PTO utilization with their employees and use these touchpoints as opportunities to look for early warning signs of burnout, stress or more severe symptoms.

During these conversations, managers don’t need to have all the answers at the ready to ask their employees how they can help or to help employees get resources. Simple, actionable questions, such as asking how an employee could feel more supported, followed by active listening and note-taking should be enough to start a sincere dialogue that can lead to real change for an employee who is struggling with stress.

Shifting attitudes and changing laws: the future of workplace mental wellness

Workplaces, especially those of public servants, have learned some hard but necessary lessons over the past few years navigating challenges like COVID and increased traumatic disturbances in the workplace. Workplaces can’t ignore traumatic experiences or brush employees’ symptoms under the rug – leaders need to take a proactive and early intervention approach to mental wellness.

With more workers’ compensation laws changing including additional criteria for mental health-related injuries, more claims cases are being made – and accepted – around mental stress and psychological trauma. Employees have more resources than ever to get the help they need, and it starts with advocacy in the workplace and the empathy to meet employees in crisis where they are.

*The views and opinions expressed in the Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA) blogs are those of each respective author. The views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRIMA.*

By: Mark Debus, MSW, LCSW
Clinical Manager, Behavioral Health, Sedgwick

As clinical manager of behavioral health services at Sedgwick, Mark leads a team of master’s level behavioral health specialists. His team consults with claims examiners and clients on complex recovery or psychiatric injury claims. They also work with injured employees who are struggling with the aftereffects of a workplace trauma or who are experiencing other types of psychosocial stressors in their lives. His team helps injured workers overcome barriers to treatment and improve motivation for successful return to work outcomes. In addition, he provides subject matter expertise on mental health issues as they relate to the workplace and management practices. Prior to Sedgwick, Mark worked in employee assistance (EAP) and the mental health field in crisis response services. Mark has a BA in psychology and communications from Marquette University and an MSW from the University of California at Berkeley. He is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in Illinois.

Sign Up for Our Education Newsletter

You Might Also Be Interested In