A serious medical incident at work is likely to trigger an appropriate response among employees. For example, nearly everybody in the office knows enough to call 911 should a coworker suffer cardiac arrest. It is likely that someone also knows how to provide CPR. Things are different when it is a mental health crisis. Suddenly, it seems like no one knows what to do.
The CDC says that one in every five U.S. adults reports some sort of mental illness. Some 71% exhibit at least one symptom of stress – be it feelings of anxiety, regular stress headaches, or something else. It is clear that mental health is something we ought to be paying attention to with as much interest as we give physical health. That includes knowing how to manage mental health crises in the workplace.
An Honest Evaluation
Managing mental health crises starts with conducting an honest evaluation of the work environment. Why? Because the environment can contribute to all sorts of mental health issues. For example, a high stress environment can push someone who is borderline over the line and into a crisis. Perhaps that particular crisis could have been avoided had the environment been less stressful.
A comprehensive evaluation takes stock of:
- potential causes of mental health crises
- the existence of key strategies and policies to deal with such crises when they occur
- whether or not managers are trained to respond to mental health issues appropriately
- communication of mental health concerns
- employee awareness of mental health issues
- existing mental health and wellness programs.
Following an honest evaluation of the workplace, the next step is to arrange mental health crisis training for managers. They are the ones who interact with employees on a daily basis. Sometimes they are the ones whose management styles create undue stress that leads to mental health crises. As such, managers need to be trained in how to respond to mental health crises as well as how to avoid them.
Managers and team members alike should also be trained in how to spot signs of an impending mental health crisis. The sooner signs and symptoms are recognized, the sooner they can be addressed in order to keep any resulting crisis to a minimum.
Crisis Management Protocol
Management training is enhanced greatly when a crisis management protocol is put in place. Such a protocol clearly lays out how managers and team members are to respond in the event of a crisis. Indeed, a workable crisis management protocol takes the guesswork out of responding. In the midst of a crisis, those responding simply follow the protocol step-by-step.
Expanding Wellness Programs
The best way to manage mental health crises at work is to avoid such crises whenever possible. And one way to do that is to expand workplace wellness programs to include mental health. Why more companies don't do this is a mystery.
Most workplace discussions on wellness focus primarily on physical health. We are happy to discuss things like heart health, weight management, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco. What we do not address is mental health. That needs to change. Employee wellness programs should include a variety of mental health education and treatment opportunities.
Just as it is impossible to completely eliminate all medical episodes from the workplace, we will never totally eliminate mental health crises. But we can do a lot more to improve the current environment. Through a combination of honest evaluation, manager and team member training, mental health wellness programs and other strategies, we can better manage mental h